Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Night Baseball Returned to Toronto

Last night was one of the most satisfying Jays victories in a long, LONG time. And forget the fact that Doc Halladay was looking like the second coming of... well, Doc Halladay, as he was feeding it to "the human contract year" all night long. This win went waaaaaay beyond glorious retribution.

Every year, it seems, the Jays have one of those games where the entire city is buzzing. It usually involves either the Yankees or the Red Sox, and it is usually early in the year when the faintest glimmer of hope for the current season is still precariously hanging in the balance. The sports talk radio stations are all onboard, the fairweather fans pack the stadium, and then invariably, the Jays go out and get their asses handed to them. People break their ankles jumping off the bandwagon, the Dome goes back to hosting the customary 17,000 fans per game, and the Jays fade into Toronto sports obscurity. It happens every year...

But it did not happen this year.

Before the season began, my buddy Browner and I were discussing the Jays prospects for the upcoming campaign. I figured they'd be lucky to win 70 games. He predicted 90 wins. His rationale?

"Because the Jays bats are a year better, and because I believe Brad Arnsberg is a genius."

I'm beginning to believe him.

Here are a few highlights from last night's festivities; AKA: The night baseball returned to Toronto.

- Riding the subway downtown at 5:30 pm and having each car absolutely rammed with people sporting throwback Jays lids, drinking tall boys in full view, and talking... wait for it... Baseball. It was surreal. It was glorious.

- Piling into The Loose Moose, tossing back a few pints with the rowdy pre-gamers, and having the entire place erupt into a chorus of boos when A.J. Burnett appeared on the TV screen...

- Missing the entire 1st inning because it took so long to get into the stadium... Wait... This is actually a low-light. Also, the roof was closed on one of the most perfect night's for baseball you will ever come across. Maybe the low-light of the year.

- Sitting in the wrong section by myself for half an inning and telling some lady that she had no idea what she was talking about when she said had a ticket for my seat... At what age is it OK to admit that you might be suffering the first signs of senility?

- Seeing the world's longest beer line in the 500-level concession stands and momentarily considering the possibility of going an entire ballgame without refreshments. Another low-light. Luckily, this temporary insanity quickly dissipated and we devised a plan. But needless to say, the Rogers Centre staff were slightly ill-prepared for the onslaught of 43,000 thirsty fans.

- Booing A.J. Burnett with a loathing customarily reserved for Vince Carter. I was thrilled with the ferocity of the crowd last night. At one point, I turned to the guy sitting next to me (I was in the right section by this point), and wondered why it couldn't be like this for every game? Because really, there's no reason it couldn't. Why not get on the pitcher and ride him all game long? Why not derisively chant his name when he gives up a run? Why not get on the other team's best player and chant "Sterrrr-Roooiiiiids!!!" every time he comes to the plate? That reminds me...

- After A-Rod fouled off a pitch in the later innings, the fan who caught the foul ball up the first base line tossed it back onto the field. This really could become the greatest tradition in all of Toronto sports. Foul ball tainted by A-Rod? I'd rather get kicked out for throwing it into the field of play. As long as we don't let this guy into the stadium, this could actually catch on.

- Coming to the realization that Aaron Hill looks like a poor man's Mickey Mantle... Seriously.

- Coming to the realization that, unlike most other Jays-Yankees games, the ratio of Jays-to-Yankees fans last night was approximately 10-to-1 (whereas in the past, the stadium was usually 1/3 Yankoffs). You could probably attribute this to the fact that it was a Tuesday night, and that nobody in their right mind would travel to see this current version of the Bronx Bombers, but still... It felt good to have a true home crowd in the seats.

- Having Joe Girardi leave A.J. Burnett in for the 8th inning, giving us one last chance to send him off in style:

- Watching Roy Halladay throw an absolute gem, and having the crowd get behind him every time he ran the count to two strikes. There were times where you would have sworn you were in a baseball city...

- Leaving the stadium and coming to the realization that, unlike back in the glory years of 1992-1993, this was a much younger and raucous crowd than I could ever remember. Back in the early years of the SkyDome, it was virtually impossible to get tickets. It was nothing but business people and the privileged few who managed to know someone with access. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you're the hottest ticket in town, and it almost invariably results in a morgue-like atmosphere. I vividly remember the Dome being referred to as the world's biggest library during those years.

But it's funny how 15-years of futility can alter a fan base. Because now, not only can you get a ticket to any game you want, you can actually afford to go to the games. $12 tickets throughout the entire 500-level is probably the best marketing ploy the Jays brass has come up with since Flashback Fridays. And the plain truth of it is that you would have never had a crowd with the demographics of like last night's crowd (young, rowdy, predominantly working class, drunk... everything a good baseball crowd should be) back in 1993. And believe me when I say that that is a good thing; not only for baseball in Toronto, but for the city as a whole.

I can't sit here and tell you that this season will end up with a World Series appearance or even a playoff berth. But what I can tell you is that it will be a hell of a lot more fun going along for the ride than it has been in years past. Because, as of last night, baseball has officially returned to the city of Toronto.


Anonymous said...

That was a fantastic entry.

Reminiscent of the day after Alexei Ramirez hit that grand slam and I got an email entitled "There will always be baseball. There will always be something good".

And of course, makes me think of one of my favourite quotes of all time, from Rogers Hornsby:

"People ask me what I do in the Winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for Spring."

Great work there Sheenboro.

Sean McCallum said...

And that, in turn, reminds me of my all-time favourite baseball quote, courtesy of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti:

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."