I’m a massive Toronto Blue Jays fan – I have been my entire life.
Even through the lamentable late-90s and terrible 2000s, where mediocrity was a foregone conclusion before the first pitch of the season was thrown, I watched four or five games a week, read numerous blogs, lamented the wasted talents of Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay, and, like a sucker, came back year after year.
There are times I wish I had leapt off the bandwagon like so many people did once the glow of the glorious World Series wins of 1992 and ’93 were a decade distant. I do the same with the Toronto Raptors and – to an extent – the Maple Leafs, although it appears their rise from the ashes is truly happening this time, if this is the team leadership that we can finally trust. Leaf fans have trusted many times before and have the scars to prove it.
So I was optimistic early on about the 2015 Blue Jays, knowing we just needed a couple of tweaks and we’d be on our way to the playoffs. When those deadline trades happened, and their incredible August and September march to the pennant began, I quickly noticed how many regular people – as in non-traditional or dormant baseball fans – rocketed out of the woodwork. At first, I was overprotective of my right to bask in the wondrousness of the final two months of the Blue Jays season. “You didn’t earn the right to cheer for this team now that it’s actually good. I PAID MY DUES! THIS IS FOR ME!” I caught myself thinking more than once.
But then I realized the Jays magical romp to the playoffs was bringing people back to the game, making it cool again. Neighbours clamoured for a spot to sit in each other’s living rooms to watch the games. Baseball was a conversation everywhere, not just the ball diamond, and those who hadn’t paid attention for a decade or two rediscovered baseball’s ebbs and flows, the elation and devastation, the importance of Every. Single. Pitch. Like the unforgettable one to Jose Bautista in Game 5 of the Division Series against Texas. It blew wide open one of the most intense games in history, and created a ‘where were you’ moment for a whole new generation of Jays fans in the process.
I expect my daughters, aged 8 and 5, will always remember the sight of me leaping and leaping and leaping, knees touching my elbows (while screaming, just to complete the picture) across our living room when Bautista angrily deposited that ball into the seats and bat-flipped his way into Canada’s sporting history, just as I vividly recall jumping into my Dad’s and sister’s arms in 1993 when Joe Carter walked-off the Philadelphia Phillies to win our second World Series. Simply unforgettable.
Before this season – the first of any true importance for anyone born after 1993 – my daughters had been peripheral fans, using a game as an excuse to cuddle with me on the couch for an inning or two, but quickly losing interest (as most kids – and plenty of adults – do when a ball game is on). But this past year, they started to care. They asked questions about teams, game situations and why this guy did that. They recognized players as they strut to the bat. They started playing Rookie and T-Ball. They sat and watched longer and seemed to understand why I bought a radio for our camping trip during the (first) pivotal series with the Yankees in mid-August, when the Jays’ run still didn’t feel real. They and their friends started wearing Jays hats and jerseys and playing catch in the backyard. Their cousin (awesomely) cut his hair like Josh Donaldson and I must have handed Halloween candy out to two dozen mini-Blue Jays.
For the first time, my kids became interested in my passion, and the fall of 2015 was a wonderful way for us to spend time and celebrate together, while being part of something bigger than us – a fever that swept the entire nation – from our own living room.
I’ve spent an entire winter hoping for the same in 2016.