MONTREAL -- Friday was the beginning of a very special weekend -- for the city of Montreal, for the more than 80,000 baseball fans expected to attend two exhibition games between the Blue Jays and the Mets, and for the patients, staff and supporters of the Montreal Children's Hospital.
On Friday morning, the Blue Jays and Montreal Children's Hospital officially announced the $250,000 Jays Care Foundation Field of Dreams capital grant, to facilitate the construction of the physical therapy wing of the hospital's new campus.
Since 1904 the Montreal Children's Hospital has been providing innovative care to the children of Canada; the Blue Jays' partnership with the hospital underlies the responsibility as Canada's only Major League Baseball team to invest in communities and children from coast to coast.
"It is very uncommon for a professional team from another market to make a donation outside of their region," said Suzanne Korf, director of development for the hospital. "However, with this $250,000 investment in Montreal Children's Hospital, the Toronto Blue Jays have made an incredible commitment to the Montreal community. And this is not the Blue Jays' first visit to the hospital. They came in 2012 as part of their Winter Tour to visit with the kids and left a donation at that time for a much-needed piece of medical equipment. They are not just the Toronto Blue Jays, they really are Canada's Team."
"The Blue Jays have made a commitment to investing in communities across Canada," said Danielle Bedasse, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation. "The Montreal Children's Hospital does remarkable work for children in Montreal and Quebec as a whole, and we are excited to support the construction of their new facility. More important, we are thrilled to be able to come back to Montreal for our last spring games and have this opportunity to visit with the children and families here receiving care."
Following remarks from representatives of both the Blue Jays and the hospital, a number of special guests -- including Blue Jays Minor League roving hitting instructor and Expos alumni Tim Raines, Blue Jays alumni Denis Boucher, and 2014 Blue Jays Brandon Morrow and Drew Hutchison -- visited with children undergoing treatment.
"I enjoyed visiting the hospital today. The kids were amazing, and seeing them smile, even going through some of the things they are fighting, it puts everything in perspective," said Hutchison. "Jays Care does such a great job with projects like this in communities all across Canada."
Hutchison was preparing for his team's first game at Olympic Stadium, but Raines played in front of the Montreal faithful for parts of 13 Major League seasons, making the visit to the hospital all the more important.
"Coming back to Montreal is always a special thing for me," said Raines. "I played here for 13 seasons, and the fans always supported me and the team. The city has a special place in my heart, and it's my pleasure to come back representing the Blue Jays and visit the kids of a city and community that supported me throughout my baseball career."
Raines made a huge impact with a special gesture for one young fan. As the team prepared to leave, Raines stopped for a chat and ended up taking the jersey off his back, autographing it and leaving it for the patient.
Boucher was equally moved.
"Montreal is my home," said Boucher. "I played for both the Blue Jays and the Expos. To come back to Montreal, with the Blue Jays crest on our chest, and give back to this community is a fantastic opportunity for myself, for the city of Montreal, for the Montreal Children's Hospital and for the Blue Jays. I'm grateful to have been able to spend the day with some remarkably strong kids and a world-class organization."
The Blue Jays will face the Mets in a two-game series to wrap up their Spring Training schedule before heading back to Florida to begin their 2014 campaign against the Rays in St. Petersburg. To purchase tickets for the Montreal series or Opening Weekend in Toronto, visit www.bluejays.com/tickets.
Matt Warner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.