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Blue Jays president says he's open to team playing at Big O

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The Canadian Press
4/6/2011 7:58:04 PM
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MONTREAL -- Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston says he's open to the idea of realizing the dreams of some Quebec fans and bringing his team to Montreal's Olympic Stadium for a visit.

"Certainly we would like to play a game in Montreal or in Quebec at some point in time," Beeston told The Canadian Press.

"I think it would be a terrific idea."

Montreal has been without its own baseball team since Major League Baseball moved the team to Washington in 2004 as the Nationals.

The Blue Jays do have a Montreal connection -- general manager Alex Anthopoulos was born in the city.

"We actually have a Montreal-born general manager whose family is still there, whose roots are in Montreal so it would be like him taking his team home," Beeston said.

Beeston made his comments in the interview in response to fan postings on a blog on the website of Montreal radio station CKAC Sports.

Anthopoulos said it's an exciting idea.

"I grew up there, became a baseball fan there with the Expos," he said before Wednesday night's game against Oakland. "You never forget where you came from and I know how passionate the fan base is there, both French and English."

Fans said Beeston has to build loyalty among Montreal's Blue Jays supporters now that some of the team's games are being broadcast in French on CKAC.

Several fans wrote they'd like to see the Jays play a game at Olympic Stadium and weren't deterred when it was suggested by others the former home of the Montreal Expos is no longer equipped for baseball.

"If we can build an 80,000-seat stadium for two U2 concerts, we can certainly spend a few dollars to stage a baseball game," wrote a man who identified himself as Frank.

Beeston noted in the interview the team played exhibition games in "the old days" in Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary and tried to play one in Saint John, N.B., but was snowed out.

Beeston emphasized Wednesday night at Rogers Centre that if the idea became a reality, it would be an exhibition game probably at the end of spring training.

"I don't see anything more than an exhibition game there right now," Beeston said. "I haven't even thought about it. It's nothing more than a concept."

Beeston added he has never thought about playing regular-season games there.

"It's probably going to be exhibition games at the end of spring training after teams break and go north. That was what I was contemplating. It's something we would like to do, but I don't know when."

CKAC Sports program director Michel Tremblay said the Cogeco-owned radio station is almost doubling the number of Blue Jays games it broadcasts live after getting solid ratings with a first try last year.

CKAC Sports broadcast eight weekend games last year and will air 15 this year. It started on April 1 and will wrap up in July when the programming slot goes to the Montreal Impact soccer team.

The games are broadcast in English by The Team 990.

Tremblay doesn't see anything amiss about broadcasting Blue Jays games over his airwaves considering the enduring friendly rivalry between Montreal and Toronto.

"We're an all-sports radio station," he said, although he admits its bread and butter is the Montreal Canadiens and hockey.

Tremblay spoke of Montreal's love of baseball and said the city has a long tradition of being thrilled by the crack of the bat.

"The love of baseball used to be very strong in Montreal," he said. "You can go back to Jackie Robinson's days."

Robinson, who broke baseball's colour barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, had previously played for the Montreal Royals. His stay in Montreal was commemorated in February with a plaque on his former apartment.

Beeston said he doesn't know if broadcasting the Jays games would cool the Montreal-Toronto rivalry but added he'd be happy if it provided impetus to bring a minor-league or major-league team back to Montreal.

"That would be terrific," he said. "Montreal's a great baseball city as we all know. Was there a more lively stadium in sports than Montreal in the early '80s? I don't think so."

Fans had a few tips for Beeston on the blog of one of the CKAC Sports commentators who will do play-by-play for the games.

Martin Beauchamp wrote he would like Beeston to make souvenirs such as caps and shirts widely available in Montreal.

"He should make an effort to put some French on the (Jays' Internet) site and advertise in Quebec and put mini-calendars in the convenience stores," he wrote.

Beauchamp wrote he's been a Blue Jays fan since 2005 and knows there aren't many like him in Montreal.

"We've made an effort to go over there for the games of the only team in Canada so he should do something so we can identify with our national team."

Bruno Boudreau underscored the importance of building a broad-based fan following for the Jays.

"We can't hide the fact that the Jays' situation is not very rosy and broadening its support to make the Jays 'Canada's baseball team' is still the only way to ensure the team's long-term viability and the survival of Major League Baseball in Canada," wrote Boudreau.

Paul Beeston (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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