MONTREAL, QC -- Half an hour before the Pirates took batting practice Friday afternoon, Neal Huntington leaned against the visitor's dugout railing and surveyed the ballpark where his professional career began 25 years ago."It felt like I was here for a long time, but 25 years doesn't feel like it
MONTREAL, QC -- Half an hour before the Pirates took batting practice Friday afternoon, Neal Huntington leaned against the visitor's dugout railing and surveyed the ballpark where his professional career began 25 years ago.
"It felt like I was here for a long time, but 25 years doesn't feel like it was that long ago," Huntington said. "Time's a little bit distorted for me right now, I guess."
From the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal to the cavernous, concrete-filled confines of Olympic Stadium, this city is full of fond memories for the Pirates' general manager. Huntington was hired by Dan Duquette in 1992 to be a part of the Expos' front-office staff and spent three years living in Montreal, beginning a career that eventually led him to Pittsburgh.
"A really cool time in my life," Huntington said. "It's where I grew up, in terms of my first professional baseball experience and exposure, in the city of Montreal. It's fun to come back."
Huntington was 23 years old when he began serving an administrative assistant in the Expos' Minor League operations department. He didn't speak much French, which can be problematic in certain parts of the city.
"My experience here played a fairly significant role in my attempts to empathize with our young Latin players coming to the United States," Huntington said. "Rather than thinking about what their experience might be, I lived it in a very, very, very small way -- trying to get around a city, trying to understand what I'm ordering at a restaurant, trying to understand how to get from Point A to Point B."
Primarily involved in player development, he also did some scouting work and shared responsibilities with the rest of the front office, whose full-time members numbered in single digits. He worked long hours and didn't make much money doing it. He commuted to Olympic Stadium by bus and the Montreal Metro.
Living in the residential island area of Nuns' Island, Huntington would walk around the city with his wife, Becca, he said, "wondering all the things that we could do someday." They got a chance to do some of them this weekend, when Becca and their three children joined Huntington in Montreal for the Pirates' two-game set of exhibitions against the Blue Jays.
"Great city," Huntington said. "We looked forward to picking a spot where we can actually do something we used to just think about being able to do, but couldn't."
Huntington worked for the Expos until 1997. He moved up the front-office ladder and eventually moved to Florida, but he remained involved in all aspects of the organization. Before Friday's game, he told stories about watching Moises Alou hit, learning from manager Felipe Alou and marveling at Marquis Grissom's defense in center field.
"That [Larry] Walker-Grissom-Alou outfield was the most athletic that I had been a part of," Huntington said, "until this group," of Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen.
The last time Huntington stepped foot in this ballpark before Friday, he was scouting an opposing pitcher for the Indians. It happened to be during the final weekend of Expos baseball in Montreal: September 2004, before the club moved to Washington and became the Nationals.
Walking through the club's suite level during Saturday's game, Huntington paused to look at a white board displaying the combined attendance for both games: 95,382.
"It's fun to come back," Huntington said. "It's fun to feel the passion of Montreal baseball again."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.