Let’s get serious. For 22 years, baseball has taken a back seat in a country that has been everlastingly known to love and adore the sport of hockey. There has always been a handful of loyal and devoted Blue Jays enthusiasts, but the majority used the baseball season as a way to pass the time until October hit, Toronto was well behind in the standings, and lacing up the skates was the only thing left to do. A half-hearted “Oh well, we’ll get ’em next year,” was uttered as a way to wrap up yet another underwhelming season of Blue Jays baseball, and off we went to the arena.
Since winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993, the allure of baseball in Canada has taken a plunge. The average home attendance has gone from 50,000 to as low as 18,463 during the 2010 season. In 2006, Shea Hillenbrand, one of the better players on the club, wrote “this ship is sinking,” and “play for yourself,” in the clubhouse. Manager John Gibbons promptly called him out during a players meeting and, reportedly, challenged him to a fight.
Who would continue to watch a team where its own players wanted out? It came down to either firing Gibbons or letting go of Hillenbrand. Toronto, thankfully, chose the latter. The Blue Jays would go on to finish fourth in the American League East in five of the next eight years after that circus, while ending the 2013 season in last.
Since I was a kid, the baseball conversation consisted of whether or not the Blue Jays would take third place behind the powerhouse Red Sox and Yankees, or how many wins Roy Halladay would be able to muster. Growing up, being a fan of the game was seen as something different. Only distorted stories from my parents about what it was like to be in Toronto during the two seasons that changed the franchise forever to hold (tightly) on to. The history of WAMCO (Devon White, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Joe Carter, and John Olerud) was told to us as if the Blue Jays would never be able to reach that peak again…Until this year, where baseball is entering a new era in Canada.
In one season, the culture of Toronto morphed into an expectation of making the postseason and competing for a World Series title, instead of just hoping to compete. Toronto is no longer the laughingstock of the AL East, instead they are a juggernaut. The city of Toronto and the country of Canada have embraced this team, and, finally, it is enjoyable to watch the Blue Jays become a threat and be a fan of baseball again.
You see it wherever you go, the blue and white jerseys are out in full force in the GTA and around the great North. The passion is back. People are lined up around the corner to see this team. During road games we hear “Let’s go Blue Jays” overshadow the cheers from the home fans (sorry, Seattle). Yesterday, on a Monday, Toronto sold out the Rogers Centre for the eighth straight game and the 14th time all year, which is already more than the entire 2014 campaign. This city is home to the most potent offense in Major League Baseball and is gaining traction and respect from sports media outlets all around North America. 718 runs scored is good for first in the league, almost 100 more than New York who sit at 627 in second. The Rogers Centre is home to a true MVP candidate in Josh Donaldson, one of the best shortstops baseball has to offer in Troy Tulowitzki, two former Cy Young winners in R.A. Dickey and David Price, and a man with a 26-game hitting steak (second on the franchise all-time list, tied with Olerud), with a home run “hat-trick” to boot in Edwin Encarnacion. To celebrate the three-bomb, 9-RBI game, Canadians chose to go back to their hockey roots by throwing their hats onto the field.
David Price and Drew Hutchison would go on to say that this moment was the coolest thing they have ever witnessed playing the game. Number 10 has since been named AL player of the week and month, registering at least one hit in every game during August. Toronto boasted a record of 22-5 during that span.
Not only is the game growing in Canada because of the Jays, but so is the talent. Just this year Team Canada won their second of back-to-back PanAm Gold medals, with Blue Jay Jeff Francis getting the start. Josh Naylor of Ontario was chosen in the first round and 12th overall by the Florida Marlins, making him the highest Canuck ever drafted. The blue birds selected Canadians Connor Panas 272nd overall and catcher Owen Spiwak with their 302nd pick.
It has been a long time since Toronto was the site for a baseball team with this amount of talent, and, not to be negative, but, we may never witness something like this again. Let every great moment soak in. The Blue Jays are competitive, they are about to play meaningful baseball in September since WAMCO, and have the capability to make a run at the pennant. At one point, this team sat at 50-51 and eight games back of first place. They now hold sole possession of the division. So why not now? Why not Toronto? The city has been waiting for a true contender, and they have found one in the last place they would look, the Blue Jays.