SPORTS

Pre-season trip to Big O nostalgic for new Blue Jays catcher Martin

04/03/2015 06:22 EDT | Updated 06/03/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - For old times sake, Russell Martin took the subway to Olympic Stadium.

The Toronto Blue Jays catcher went to the Big O often with his father Russell Sr. to watch Montreal Expos games as a boy and he wanted to relive the experience prior to Toronto's pre-season game Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds.

"Travelling here by Metro brought back memories," Martin, who grew up in the Notre-Dame-de-Grace area of western Montreal, said before the game. "Walking down the hallway, seeing where the old team store was and the place you get your tickets.

"Just the building itself. It's surreal. I remember being 12 years old and being a fan and here I am wearing a big league uniform and playing in front of family and friends."

The Blue Jays are back at the domed stadium for a pair of games for a second year in a row. Last year, 96,350 fans turned out for two tilts against the New York Mets. Already, more than 90,000 tickets have been sold for this year's games.

The opponent this time is Cincinnati and its Canadian star, first baseman and Toronto native Joey Votto.

Many fans, especially the hundreds sporting Expos tri-coloured caps, were looking to show Major League Baseball their support for bringing major league ball back after the Expos bolted to Washington following the 2004 season.

It would take finding wealthy ownership and a new stadium, but there is an active movement to land a team.

Martin is committed to the Blue Jays through 2019 on a five-year, US$82 million contract signed in the off-season. But he's all for baseball returning to his home town.

"I don't know if it's possible but if so, it would be fantastic," he said. "The crowd that came last year and the one they're supposed to get this year shows that there are people who want to see baseball.

"I don't know what it would take, but it would be fun if it happened."

The 32-year-old Martin was with Pittsburgh last season. A bonus of signing with Toronto was the pre-season trip to Montreal.

"It's already been pretty special," he said. "I feel I haven't been in Montreal at this time of year in 17 years, so that's cool enough to begin with.

"It feels like opening day. New York (where the Blue Jays open the regular season on Monday) is going to be a breeze now. This is more than opening day for me."

While the bi-lingual Martin will be the crowd favourite, Votto brings his own impressive credentials.

The 31-year-old was the National League MVP in 2010, although he is coming off a season in which he missed 100 games with knee and quad issues. In 2012, he signed a 12-year deal that will pay $251.5 million.

Votto broke into the NL in 2007, so he never got to visit as a major league player, although he once played at the Big O as an amateur.

"The older players that played here had good things to say about the city," said Votto. "For a lot of them, it was their favourite stop.

"Unfortunately, I never got to play against the Montreal Expos but this is the next best thing."

Votto grew up as a Blue Jays fan, but he'd like to see the major leagues return to Montreal.

"You get excited about a city when you can feel the energy," he said. "The next two games will be an example of that, but I'm not sure how complicated it is to bring a team here."

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