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second chance

Montreal Expos Warren Cromartie gestures to teammates after scoring against the San Diego Padres in Montreal, May 25, 1983. Baseball owners have voted overwhelmingly to begin work on killing off two of their weaker sisters. In baseball terms, itís called contraction and it could spell the end of the Montreal Expos and their rich history.BILL GRIMSAHW/The Canadian Press

Nearly eight years after the team's bitter departure, a former member of the Montreal Expos is leading the charge to bring professional baseball back to the city.

Warren Cromartie, who played on the Expos in the 1970s and early 1980s, said the city could be home to a minor league club and eventually another major league franchise.

"We're a major league city as far as I'm concerned," Cromartie said in an interview Saturday.

Cromartie was in town as part of a reunion for a 1981 Expos team that nearly went all the way to the World Series. They made it to the post-season for the only time in franchise history, losing the National League championship series in five games.

The players honoured another member of that star-packed team on Saturday, Hall of Famer Gary Carter. Carter, who died of brain cancer earlier this year, had a local ballpark named in his honour.

Expo great Tim Raines said he was encouraged by the warm reception from fans.

"It feels like I haven't left," he said, adding that he too thinks there's a future for baseball in the city.

"You have to start somewhere, and what better time to start then now? So hopefully we can get a team back here in the near future."

Montreal's franchise unceremoniously departed for Washington D.C. after the 2004 season, leaving the team's small but loyal fan base wondering what could have been.

Lately, though, there appears to be a newfound appreciation for the Expos and its former greats. Whether out of nostalgia or tribute, Expos caps are a more common site on Montreal streets than they have been in years.

Dave Kaufman, a former season ticket holder who now hosts a sports radio show in Montreal, said the anger over the move has subsided with time.

"Seeing so many people wearing their baseball caps, I think that shows the bitterness has gone away a bit," he said.

There's also increased buzz about getting a team back to the city. Fans lining up for autographs said they're anxious to watch professional baseball again.

"There's an emptiness in the summer," said Tony Portolese, a lifelong Expos fan who came to meet his old heroes with his son. "You gotta take your kid out of town to watch a ballgame."

Vedanta Balbahadur, another fan, was so enamoured with the Expos he dedicated his final project in architecture school to designing a new Expos stadium.

Balbahadur, 30, recalled watching games at Montreal's Olympic Stadium with his father during the summer. He's hopeful another team could make it under the right circumstances.

"It's like any business, it would take the right backing and the right support," he said.

"If Montreal gets another team, I want to be a part of the group that helps design the stadium."

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