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Toronto Blue Jays to return to Montreal for two pre-season games in April

11/04/2014 02:54 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - After last year's roaring success, playing more pre-season games in Montreal was an easy choice for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The ball club and co-promoter Evenko announced Tuesday that Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds will face the Blue Jays in exhibition games April 3-4 at Olympic Stadium.

Toronto hopes to duplicate the frenzy last year when 96,350 fans turned out to see the Blue Jays sweep a pair of exhibition games from the New York Mets, although the turnout was spurred mostly by the fans' wish to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal.

"The fans of Montreal, the way they welcomed us, it was a no brainer for us to come back here again this year," Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston said at a news conference. "I don't think we could ever have expected what we received last year.

"There was an atmosphere in there you can't describe. I said to the commissioner 'You had to be there and feel it.' It may not be a World Series game, but it certainly had the feel of a playoff game."

General manager Alex Anthopoulos said he hopes to play at the Big O every year until Montreal lands its own team.

The event will include tributes to former Blue Jays star Roberto Alomar and manager Cito Gaston as well as Tony Perez, who starred for the Reds and the Expos.

Turning out in large numbers is viewed as a means to show the city is ready to have a team again. The Montreal Expos, who played in the National League from 1969 to 2004, moved to Washington to become the Nationals.

It would require finding an owner and a building a new stadium, likely at public expense, but Mayor Denis Coderre backs the idea and there is an organization called the Montreal Baseball Project led by former Expo Warren Cromartie working on building support and trying to land a franchise.

Beeston said the Blue Jays would welcome a rival in Montreal. Moreso if they played in the same division in the AL.

"It would be the best that could happen," he said. "Hockey (is) six games a year, that would be 18, it would be a weekend.

"And now, with interleague play, it's not like you can say we need the two leagues represented in the country. It would just make it more exciting. I would endorse that in a heartbeat."

Reports said the Tampa Bay Rays, who play in Toronto's division, may be looking to move if they don't get a new downtown stadium, but Beeston was not about to endorse the relocation of any team.

"They've had a lot of success on the field and maybe, with a new stadium in a new location, the game can grow there," he said.

Coderre said Montreal will make an "action plan" to help land a team.

"We need to send a clear message," he said. "Everyone has to do their part for baseball."

The Blue Jays had several requests from teams interested in being their opponents at the Big O. Beeston said the "Votto factor" was part of the decision to play the Reds. Votto, a Toronto native, was National League MVP in 2010.

The games will be Toronto's last before their regular-season opener on April 6 against the Yankees in New York. Instead of playing before a few thousand fans at a spring training game, they expect a boisterous throng in the domed Big O.

But rather than seeing it as a distraction, Anthopoulos calls it an ideal tune-up for the regular season.

"You can't ask for anything better," he said. "That's why so many clubs reached out to us.

"The game was watched across the league. It was an event. Olympic Stadium, packed house. In spring training games, you don't have that type of environment. It was a great way to get your team ready."

Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays plan to be aggressive in the free agent and trade markets in the off-season, but did not get into the specifics of his plans.

"We think we're very close," he said. "We were in first place last year for quite a while. We were eliminated with for or five games to go. We just need that one little push to get us over the top.

"I'm as excited about this off-season as I've been."

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