With 12 games remaining, the Toronto Blue Jays are about to wrap up their 34th season in baseball’s American League.
Right now, they sit two games above .500. Do you care? Have you cared at all this season? Based on the attendance this season at Rogers Centre, no one has cared. There have been plenty of things to care about – Jose Bautista’s charge for 50 home runs, catcher John Buck’s solid first season in Toronto, Kyle Drabek’s major league pitching debut, CF Vernon Wells’ resurgence and Cito Gaston’s farewell season in the dugout. But fans in Toronto don’t care. It’s a far cry from the good, old days. And it does not auger well for the future.
As usual in Toronto, there have been a litany of excuses for the fans’ apathy. The most common is that people are tired of the Jays being in the American League East. The Yankees (92-59, leading the AL East with Tampa Bay) and Red Sox (83-68) have dominated the division forever. New York has finished first or second in the division every year, save one, since the Blue Jays won their 1993 World Series. Since 1996, the Yankees have never had a season in which they have finished worse than 13 games over .500 – and that has happened only once. Since the Jays won back-to-back championships in 1992 and ’93, the Yankees have won it all five times.
The Boston Red Sox have been almost as dominant. Over the past fifteen seasons (1996-2009), the Sox have won two championships and reached the postseason nine times. Interestingly, they’ve only won the AL East twice. The perception in Toronto is that Boston has been better than it has. The problem lies in that when the Yankees don’t win, the Red Sox do. And what really drives a stake into the hearts of Jays’ fans is the Tampa Bay Rays emergence. They’ve blown right past Toronto and will reach the postseason again in 2010. That is a tough thing for Toronto fans to watch.
Another situation that makes things tough for the Jays is that the baseball season overlaps hockey season at both ends. When baseball begins, in early April, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still wrapping up their year…or, sometimes, entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Jays begin their season in complete obscurity. Same thing happens in September. The Maple Leafs kick off training camp and begin playing exhibition games – like they did last night – and the Blue Jays completely fade into the woodwork. That situation would likely change if the Jays were in a pennant race. No Blue Jays’ fan under the age of thirty even knows what a Toronto pennant race feels like. That’s a shame.
Apathy is what happened in Montreal to the Expos. Their stadium stunk. Fans stopped caring. They never got it turned around and now they play their home games on the north shore of the Potomac River. I have always been a Toronto Blue Jays’ fan. I have watched them since the snowy day they first took the field in 1977. But I am a growing minority in Toronto.
If the Jays want to win back a city, they’d better start doing exactly that – winning. And fast. Because that’s the only way the Jays are going to bring fans back into their building.