Just a few months away from his official induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, legendary former Expo Tim Raines is in Montreal for a weekend preseason series at the Olympic Stadium between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Toronto Blue Jays. Before reconnecting with the Montreal faithful in the park where he became one of the most dominant players in Expos history, Raines made a stop at the Bell Centre for a ceremonial puck drop before the Panthers-Canadiens tilt, and "Rock" sat down with canadiens.com to chat about his return to town.
How long has it been since you were at the Bell Centre? Almost 10 years?
TIM RAINES: It's been a long time. Probably a good 10 years. I've been coming back to Montreal for the past few years for the Blue Jays games, but I never had a chance to come back to the Bell Centre before now.
What was your reaction when you learned that the Canadiens wanted you to come out to drop the puck before a game?
TR: I was excited. I was like a little kid. I'm a big Habs fan, and I have been since Day 1 - since the first time I watched a hockey game at the Forum, in 1979. I had no clue what was happening on the ice. I had no clue why the referee was blowing his whistle. (laughs) Even though I don't get the chance to come here and watch them play up close, I'm still a big fan. I always check the standings to see where they are. Not as much as I used to, though, since I'm constantly moving around.
You've come back to Montreal a few times over the years, but how special/different is this one given your upcoming induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame?
TR: I think that's the reason it feels different. I always loved coming back to Montreal. The past few years, I haven't had the opportunity to do it as much I as would like to. The closest I usually make it through my job with the Blue Jays is Buffalo, which is still a good drive. I'm always excited for this time of the year because I know we'll be here for a few days. And it's going to be a party for two days!
You receive standing ovations every time you come to town. Do you ever get used to it or does it gives you chills every time?
TR: I never get tired of it. It just brings back fond memories. The crowd in Montreal is different than it is everywhere else. I just feel it; what they're feeling towards me, I feel it towards them. I think that's why I enjoy coming back here so much.
Video: FLA@MTL: Tim Raines drops ceremonial first puck
More than ever, do you feel like Montreal will get back a baseball team back one day?
TR: I think we convinced people a long time ago. There were about 100,000 fans that came to the Big O during the first two years [of hosting Blue Jays games], and there were more people here than that the past two years. Even though we don't have a team, we know there will always be support. I would love to be part of that when baseball comes back to Montreal. I started here as 19-year-old kid many years ago. I had a tough time and I didn't know the language, but the people here took me under their wing. They loved watching me play and I loved playing for them. It was a match made in heaven for me. The toughest thing I've gone through was in 2004 when it was announced that the Expos would play their last game in Montreal. I can't wait for the next time they say "Play Ball" in Montreal.