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Field of dreams

As Major League Baseball returns to Montreal for two days, Brendan Gallagher is feeling spring fever

by Steven Nechay @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL -- Brendan Gallagher's dream of hanging out in a big league bullpen will need to wait at least one more year.

The MLB's boys of summer will be back in town for two days beginning Friday when the Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays square off at Olympic Stadium, but Gallagher's day job as a boy of winter will once again prevent the 24-year-old from being in attendance when 90,000-plus fans pack the former home of the Expos over the weekend.

"How come they're never in Montreal when we're here?" cracked the Habs forward, who will instead be on the road with his teammates in Florida for upcoming games against the Lightning and Panthers -- missing the annual event for a fourth-straight year due to previous obligations. "I want to throw out the first pitch or something -- that would be sweet! I would be there in a second."

It's hard to argue with a trip to the Sunshine State while there's still snow on the ground in Montreal, but for fans of America's pastime like Gallagher, there's nothing quite like the first crack of a bat to signal warmer weather is finally on the way.

"I'm a huge fan -- I'm, like, actually upset that [the Blue Jays] are here while we're gone," continued the Edmonton native, whose Toronto baseball roots run deep thanks to a childhood spent watching Jays broadcasts out west. "They were always the team that was on when you turned on the TV. I've been a Jays fan literally my whole life. I can name every player from back when they were brutal. My favorite player used to be Josh Towers -- terrible pitcher, he was awful -- but he wore number 7, and that was my baseball number growing up, so I just started liking him. I was already a fan way back then. I remember [Carlos] Delgado, Raul Mondesi, Frank Catalanotto, Ted Lilly…"

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: . @BGALLY17 chats with @RobertoOsuna1 postgame... are they talking hockey or baseball? #GoHabsGo

Clearly Gallagher's blue bird cred goes beyond bandwagon-level, but more than just a superfan, the 5-foot-9, 182-pounder can also hold his own above the plate.

A former shortstop and catcher growing up, it turns out the current-day NHL sparkplug was also a pest on the diamond.

"I loved trying to turn double-plays, but it was very rare," recalled Gallagher, who ultimately chose to pursue hockey full-time at age 16. "I'd either hit first or second in the lineup, and I loved starting off games with a bunt. I'd lead off the game with a bunt, then steal second and third -- that was fun. When I started to get older, that became harder to do."

Indeed, with age, the Canadiens winger has since set his sights on popping a dinger.

"I do batting practice with the Vancouver Canadians every summer -- they're the Blue Jays' single A team," explained Gallagher, who has yet to send one over the outfield wall. "Big park though -- tough to hit it out. I got it to the top of the wall once, but the wind was coming in. Strong breeze."

Sure, Brendan.

Fortunately there would be no "breeze" to battle under the Big O's closed dome, should the timing ever be right for the Habs' fifth-round draft pick from 2010.

But who knows, with rumors of a potential MLB return to Montreal heating up, Gallagher may soon have plenty of opportunities to swing for the fences right here at home. 

If Nos Amours do eventually make their way back to the city, Gallagher may have some competition when it comes to vying to toss out the first pitch. Having spent his childhood hanging around Major League dugouts with his father, Dan, who won the World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1984, Jeff Petry has been perfecting his slider since he was in diapers. 

"It would be awesome if the Expos came back," acknowledged Petry, whose favorite 'Spo was Vladimir Guerrero. "From what I've heard, if a team does return, they would need a stadium downtown that is easily accessible. I would definitely enjoy seeing a team come back here."

Video: WSH@MTL: Vladimir Guerrero honored at the Bell Centre

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