With the Jays poised for playoffs, some Baseball Life Advice for the newbie Toronto ball fan.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat (sorry): there is absolutely nothing wrong with jumping on a sports fandom bandwagon and anyone who says otherwise hates joy.
The kind of people who look at new fans with disdain are nothing more than grown-up versions of the elementary schoolboys who wouldn’t let you into their cool-kid clubhouse. Gatekeeping is never a good look, and what defines a “real fan” could possibly be one of the most boring topics of conversation in the world after people explaining their dreams.
The reasonable among us lifelong fans know that baseball is church, and like any religion it makes good sense to recruit as many devotees as possible. There’s no real set of rules to being a ball fan other than simply caring (and maybe being a masochist), but the more knowledge you have of the game and its players the more enjoyment can be found. While there’s a prominent sector of fandom that believes stats to be king, I’ve always been more of an “accessible narrative” type, dredging up players’ backstories, luxuriating in the arcs of their spring to fall triumphs. It is, of course, a game made up of men we call boys, and while their performance numbers can be fascinating, falling in love with who they are tends to be, at least for me, the most fun part.
While it is admittedly annoying that $18 cheap seats to the upcoming Jays series against the Yankees are now going for a minimum of $54 on StubHub.com, that’s got more to do with the flaws of free-market capitalism than your recent love for a baseball team you’ve largely ignored for a few decades. (I mean, who can blame you? The Blue Jays haven’t seen an October in 21 years, the longest current playoff drought in all of Major League Baseball.)
Thus, I humbly present a Bandwagoner’s Guide to 2015 World Series hopefuls, the Toronto Blue Jays. Everybody loves a winner, and let none of that love, however new, ever be excluded.
“So how, exactly, did we get to a place where the playoffs are possible, especially after so many painful years of dejectedly crying into our overpriced beers?”
Going into tonight’s match up against the Oakland A’s, our beloved boys in blue are on a barely believable eight-game winning streak. They’ve just come off of a history-making sweep of the first-place New York Yankees, closing the Yanks’ American League East lead to a paltry 1.5 games, and popping into a first-place Wild Card spot. This obviously has whipped Torontonians into a sports frenzy, causing some to fantasize about a gleeful Drake attending post-season games at the Rogers Centre. Making things all the more impressive, we’ve historically sucked in the Yankee Stadium, yet somehow managed to shut the home team out in consecutive games—a thing that hasn’t happened to the Yankees with anyone since 1999. Thus, there’s pretty good reason for everyone to be freaking out, and—dare I say it—hopeful.
So how, exactly, did we get to a place where the playoffs are possible, especially after so many painful years of dejectedly crying into our overpriced beers?
First of all, the July 31 trade deadline was really good to us. We managed to score one of the best shortstops in the MLB, the Colorado Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, and as if that wasn’t enough, we snagged 2012 Cy Young winner and Detroit Tiger David Price. Price’s pitching debut as a Jay just over a week ago was more than solid, his on-the-mound talent coming with a big, fun personality and an adorable (baseball famous) dog named Astro. He’s even deemed himself an honorary Canadian, and said that the atmosphere in the dome “takes the cake—I’ve never experienced anything like that.” These two major additions seemed to make everything lock into place, complimenting both existing alumni and our handful of 2015 additions.
One of those additions was Josh Donaldson, someone I admittedly went from being wary of in April to completely obsessed with by July. To give you some idea of how talented and well-regarded Donaldson is, a few weeks ago, when I went to see the Jays play in his former Oakland home, the fans there actually gave him a standing ovation during his first at bat, screaming “We love you, Josh” rather than booing the opposing player (as is tradition). A’s fans politely stopped me on the concourse to tell me how lucky we are to have him, and to ask that we take good care of him. It may be unprofessional to say so, but this man bun–sporting third-baseman is also a goddamn heartthrob, with so much swagger he’s got people swooning over his cute comedy, bad boy gestures, and general carefree attitude. I’ve personally taken to nicknaming him “the charming dirtbag,” a phrase that pretty much sums up how someone can be so totally bratty and loveable at the same time.
On the other end of the personality spectrum, well-read, God-fearing R.A. Dickey is the thoughtful dad-type of the team. He’s a Cy Young–winning knuckleball pitcher who, in his spare time, does advocacy work for rape survivors and built a much-needed medical clinic in Mumbai. Dickey’s pitching colleague, Mark “Papa Bear” Buehrle, is the strong, silent type, loves his Toronto-banned pitbulls, and throws one of the shortest games in the MLB, meaning you should catch one of his outings if you don’t yet have the stamina for a four-hour sunbaked day at the ballpark.
Our pitching this season has been a bit of a shaky sore spot, but promising performances from the likes of newcomer Marco Estrada and 20-year-old rookie closer Roberto Osuna suggest we might be able to hold it together. Forty-two-year-old LaTroy Hawkins, who came to the Jays with Rockies teammate Tulowitzki, has also been performing just fine—despite being the oldest Blue Jay in history to record a save. (People really won’t shut up about how old this guy is.) Thanks to Hawkins, the history making continues—as of Wednesday, he has the distinction of being the 13th pitcher ever to record a save against all 30 MLB teams.
The New York Times put it best, stating that the Jays are a team whose “true abilities were hidden by a poor record”
Behind the plate is bilingual and bearded Canadian catcher Russell Martin, who, after reaching the postseason six times in his 10-year career, says that the Jays are “looking like the best team I’ve ever been on.” (Suck it, Yankees.) His dad played saxophone in the Montreal Metro to pay for his son’s baseball education, and a male friend of mine recently confessed to wearing Lululemon dress pants because he read in Toronto Life that Martin (and his muscular thighs) swear by them.
The only thing you really need to know about the outfield is that is that Kevin Pillar can fly.
In the slugging department we’ve still got favourites Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion going for us, who’ve currently got 47 home runs and 142 runs batted between them. The surprisingly mighty Jays actually lead the MLB this season in overall runs scored—it seems our problem up until this point has been losing tight games while winning blowouts. The New York Times put it best, stating that the Jays are a team whose “true abilities were hidden by a poor record,” and now that the veil has been lifted, we can enjoy the fact that we might actually have a shot this year.
Some final ballpark tips? When planning a trip to your new home, understand that unlike the hallowed stadiums of the Dodgers, the Cubs, or the Giants, there is no remotely decent food at the dome. Make a point of packing something to eat—the fact that the staff will let you in with a sandwich is something that took me far too long to realize. The beer selection also borders on terrible, so it’s advisable to work on an ironic fetish for Budweiser products. If booze-soaked bros are not your thing, the Rogers Centre kindly offers an alcohol-free section, while the WestJet Flight Deck gives all ticket holders a spot to socialize, standing-room only.
Not to sound like an insufferably earnest summer camp counselor, but the most important thing about venturing into fledgling Blue Jays fandom is to have a good time. While it’s inevitable you’ll run into blowhards who take both the game and themselves far too seriously, most of us are just all about the communion the pastime so generously offers in a less than congenial world. Pick up a T-shirt with your new favourite player’s name on it, grab an obscenely overpriced 500-level ticket, and enjoy these final precious beer-clutching moments of summer while they last.
Hopefully, I’ll see you all in October.
Stacey May Fowles is a novelist and essayist. She curates baseball feelings from across the league into a weekly newsletter called Baseball Life Advice.