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Montreal honors Gary Carter as Mets visit Expos' old park for exhibition games

Sandy Carter, wife of former Montreal Expos catcher

Sandy Carter, wife of former Montreal Expos catcher Gary Carter, wipes her eye as she and her daughter Kimmy, left, are introduced during a ceremony prior to a preseason exhibition game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Mets Friday, March 28, 2014 in Montreal. Credit: AP / Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL - The concrete tunnel leads to the playing field at Olympic Stadium, where Gary Carter first achieved stardom. The Hall of Fame catcher made this walk hundreds of times as a member of the Expos, for whom he starred before the trade that brought him to the Mets.

This fact was not lost upon his widow and daughter Friday night. As they made their way down that tunnel for a ceremony to honor Carter, they heard the cheers of a baseball-starved crowd, drawing them closer with each step toward the field.

"We felt that presence right there," said Carter's daughter, Kimmy. "We knew he was smiling."

And so it went Friday night, when the Mets and Blue Jays met for an exhibition game, the first big-league game in Montreal since the Expos moved to Washington after the 2004 season. For the Mets, who face the Jays again Saturday, the games represented a final opportunity to hone their roster before Opening Day on Monday. But mostly, they proved to be an exercise in nostalgia.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous, a Montreal native, took the chance to relive his youth. Mets manager Terry Collins sat in the same office that he occupied in 1994 when he was with the Astros in his first season as a big-league skipper. Fans lined up for hours before the gates opened, donning the distinctive pinwheel Expos caps that seem to have grown in popularity despite the franchise's relocation.

The loudest cheers came before the first pitch, when Carter was honored in a pregame ceremony. The outdated videoboard in centerfield played a montage of his time with the Expos, first from 1974 to 1984 and then in 1992, his final season.

Carter lost his battle with cancer in 2012. He was 57. For fans in Montreal, Friday night was perhaps their first chance to say goodbye. They also took the opportunity to show their appreciation. Before the game, a sign was unveiled on the rightfield wall, featuring Carter's No. 8 and his nickname, "The Kid."

"Merci!" the sign read. "Thank you!"

The Mets -- Carter's team from 1985 to 1989 -- stood at attention in their dugout.

"It was emotional," said Sandy Carter, Gary's widow. "It was beautiful, even more special than I thought it would be, and I had high expectations. We just felt so much love from everyone."

Mejia out. Jenrry Mejia's final audition for a rotation spot came to an end in the fifth inning in the Mets' 5-4 loss to Toronto. Mejia left the game when he was hit by Ryan Goins' comebacker and suffered a right forearm contusion. Until then, he had allowed one run in four-plus innings. Mejia had been pushing Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitches Saturday, for the final rotation spot.

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