It has long been said that baseball is America’s pastime. There’s no questioning that. But it’s been a long time since Canada has seen the sport as that second one, after hockey.
Now, 20 years after the Toronto Blue Jays’ first of two consecutive World Series victories, Toronto is abuzz about baseball.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The Jays’ new, retro-stylized jerseys may be attracting more than just a few fair-weather fans. The old-school style, harkening back to the glory days of baseball up north, is rampant in the streets of downtown Toronto. The recognizable bird-and-baseball logo is emblazoned on more baseball caps than you can count. Blue and white jerseys have thankfully replaced the drab black and grey of the past few years. Sweaters boasting championships in ’92 and ’93 are proudly worn by young and old alike.
One thing is clear: Blue is back in Toronto, and that’s okay. There’s reason for excitement.
While less than ten games is anything but definitive in the marathon that is an MLB season, the blue birds seem to be a very cohesive unit. Not a single everyday player has an average over .300, yet they’re finding ways to score runs. Excluding one excellent start against the Red Sox by staff ace Ricky Romero, the starting pitching has been decidedly average. The bullpen has seen its struggles, with closer Sergio Santos blowing two saves in three opportunities. Expected offensive leaders Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie have only one home run between them, both with decidedly low OPS hovering around .500, solved by secondary players picking up the slack.
No single facet can be congratulated for the team’s early success. The Jays are a stellar reminder of what is so easy to forget in a game with lavish contracts and lucrative individual achievements; baseball is a team sport. The average age is just over 29 (including the venerable 44-year-old Omar Vizquel), and it’s easy to see just how much fun they’re having together. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more jovial band of young athletes both on and off the diamond. Every post-game interview seemingly carries as much humor and joy as their Twitter mentions to one another on off-days.
That excitable, youthful attitude has quite clearly rubbed off onto the fans as well. Ovations in the Rogers Centre ring out louder than they have in recent memory. Every Bautista at-bat carries an excited buzz through the seats. Fans rise from their seats for more than just the seventh-inning stretch. The city is taking the team’s lead, and it’s fun to care about the Blue Jays again.
There is still a modicum of realism amongst the media and fans alike; the AL East is a dangerous division that can crush playoff hopes in one fell swoop. That fact has remained unchanged for quite some time. What is changing is the promise of the Toronto Blue Jays. While high expectations must be kept in check, Toronto is excited about the game of baseball once again. Perhaps for the best reason in 20 years.