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NDG native Russell Martin gets rousing reception at Big O

WATCH ABOVE: Montreal celebrates the return of MLB with Blue Jays pre-season game

MONTREAL – Friday night was never really about “the game.”

The Toronto Blue Jays were taking on the Cincinnati Reds in a friendly pre-season game played at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

READ MORE: Couple travels across the US to bring baseball back to Montreal

The crowd of 46,314 came to roar the return of Major League Baseball and to see the Jays’ newest star catcher Russell Martin, a Montreal native who grew up in NDG.

“He’s from our town, close to our town too, so that’s why we’re rooting for him tonight,” one fan said prior to the game.

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Martin didn’t get a hit and the Blue Jays lost 2-0 to the Reds, but that didn’t slow the fans’ enthusiasm – especially in a city that’s been deprived of a big league team for more than a decade.

“It reminds me of being a teenager, coming Sunday afternoon, cheap hot dogs, great game, cheap prices,” another fan told Global News while watching from his seat.

“Just the sport in general, such a beautiful sport. We miss it here. We want it back.”

Prior to the game, Martin’s dad helped open the ceremonies by playing the American and Canadian national anthems on the saxophone to the delight of the crowd and a very emotional son who has fond memories of coming to the Big O years ago with his dad to see the former Expos play.

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“It’s kind of surreal you know,” Martin said in a pre-game press conference.

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“I still remember being 12-years-old and being a fan. And here I am wearing a big league uniform.”

Martin is considered a strong leader in the Blue Jays line-up -a player who many are counting on to help lead the team to the post-season in October.

While Friday’s game had no bearing on the regular season standings, Martin said he would treat it like the real deal.

“This is more than opening day for me,” Martin said.

The two exhibition games are being closely watched by MLB executives as many Montrealers push to get baseball back in the city.

But it won’t happen over night.

WATCH: Baseball in Montreal
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John McHale Jr., senior executive V.P. of MLB, told Global News Friday night that several things have to happen first.

READ MORE: 2 former Montreal Expos elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

The league needs to expand by two teams – something McHale said isn’t in the immediate future – or a team in another market will have to be sold and move to Montreal, a more likely scenario.

WATCH: Global’s Tim Sargeant is live at the game

“We do have a couple of teams that are having trouble in their own markets. You can never tell,” he told Global News in an exclusive interview.

McHale also said that a new baseball stadium has to be built.

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“There has to be some very hard, good deep thinking about where it should be, how it will be built and how it will be payed for,” he said.

READ MORE: Baseball in NDG? Pitch-and-catch rally keeps Expo hope alive

Questions that for now, remain unanswered.

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