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Bud Selig's Montreal comments welcomed by those pushing for MLB's return

Warren Cromartie, president of Montreal Expos Project, responds to a question during a news conference for the release of a study on the return of the Montreal Expos baseball team Thursday, December 12, 2013 in Montreal. Cromartie is welcoming comments from Commissioner Bud Selig.Selig said Tuesday that Montreal would be an

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Warren Cromartie, president of Montreal Expos Project, responds to a question during a news conference for the release of a study on the return of the Montreal Expos baseball team Thursday, December 12, 2013 in Montreal. Cromartie is welcoming comments from Commissioner Bud Selig.Selig said Tuesday that Montreal would be an "excellent candidate" for getting a future franchise. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL - A former Expos standout who is spearheading an attempt to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal believes comments by Bud Selig mean the city is firmly on the sport's radar.

The MLB commissioner's remark that Montreal would be an "excellent candidate" for a potential franchise was music to the ears of Warren Cromartie.

Selig said he was impressed by the fact 96,350 fans turned up in Montreal last March for a pair of exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets.

"It's great that he said it and I think that with those two games we had in spring training, we really showed Major League Baseball," Cromartie told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.

The Expos played in Montreal from 1969 to 2004, when they departed for Washington, D.C. The team suffered from dwindling attendance in its final years at Olympic Stadium and were owned by the league in its final seasons. Selig was commissioner in 2004.

"I think they would be an excellent candidate in the future," he said before Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game. "No question about it."

He cautioned, however, that Montreal still has a lot of work to do.

Selig, who is expected to leave the post before the beginning of the 2015 season, said he bears no ill will toward Montreal.

"We tried to keep a team there," he said. "It's a long story now. But I thought that (the March games) was marvellous."

Cromartie believes Selig's comments will trickle down to his successor.

"It was show and tell," Cromartie said. "This was a true test for us to show how much Montreal wants their baseball back, so they (fans) really showed and hopefully it will pay off."

Baseball's return is by no means a certainty. A feasibility study was commissioned by Cromartie's group — the Montreal Baseball Project — and the city's board of trade was favourable to baseball's return, but at a hefty price and with a new stadium.

The report said the project would cost just more than $1 billion —$500 million for the facility and $525 million for the franchise. The investment would need about $335 million in government money from a province and a city that are both cash-strapped.

Ernst & Young cited a strong demand for season tickets, revenue-sharing and increased TV rights as some of the reasons it reached its conclusion.

Cromartie said Olympic Stadium can't serve as a permanent home for any future franchise.

"But a team has to be available and we're not going to build a stadium until we get a team," he said.

Until all the pieces are in place, Cromartie said fans must continue to demonstrate their passion for baseball, with strong attendance whenever it does come to town.

He dismissed using minor league baseball as a stepping stone to a major league franchise.

"We're not a minor league city, we're a major league city — we had big league baseball here since 1969 and we had Jackie Robinson before that," Cromartie said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the city deserves to regain its status as a Major League Baseball town and rejoiced that it was being discussed.

Matthew Ross, president and founder of Expos Nation, a grassroots group dedicated to promoting baseball in Montreal, was also heartened by Selig's words.

"I think it's always tremendous when Montreal is looked at in baseball circles in a positive light," said Ross.

"A couple of years ago, he (Selig) said he couldn't foresee Montreal getting it (a team) in the foreseeable future. But now, given these positive words, we'll certainly take it."

Ross said Montreal is currently being used as leverage as teams in Tampa Bay and Oakland attempt to get new stadiums. Ross believes it will be at least five to eight years before any team settles permanently in Montreal.

"I think at some point, they will add a team to each league and, certainly, Montreal is a top candidate for that," he said.

For his part, Cromartie doesn't have any firm timetable in mind.

"Whatever time it takes," said Cromartie. "It's going to take patience and time to do it right."

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