Baseball fans are an irritating, romantic breed, happy to reminisce on brief moments of glory sandwiched between hours of monotony. And I used to be one of them.
As a child I would go to bed and wake up with box score imprints on my face. Every day, afternoons revolved around Blue Jays games. Posters of Nolan Ryan and Paul Molitor hung on my walls and I still rest easy with memories of Joe Carter’s home run, and John Olreud’s chase for .400.
But my heroes have long retired, and I no longer cheer for my once beloved Blue Jays. During my teenage years I stopped following baseball completely. It happened gradually and unintentionally, though, looking back, I had my reasons.
Foremost was the growing economic disparity between the poorest teams and the richest. I don’t like sports that favour the wealthy teams. And I don’t want to see the Yankees make the playoffs every single year. I don’t understand the point of cheering for the Kansas City Royals, or the Baltimore Orioles. Once every 20 years, the Orioles might get lucky and have a 50/50 shot at a wild card berth. But to do so they’ll have to run a perfect organization from top to bottom, for years, for a slim window to compete with baseball’s aristocracy.
The second reason was the growing antagonism between Toronto and the rest of Canada. I remember the lopsided press the Raptors received over the Grizzlies. I remember the network obsession with the late 90’s Cujo Maple Leafs and I remember home Canucks games, moved to 4 p.m. to accommodate viewers back east (the last one, by far the most irritating).
Lastly, I found it hard to cheer for a team without anyone to cheer with. It’s the social encounters, the city solidarity, and the civic pride that creates an exciting backdrop for sports. When the popularity of the Blue Jays died down in the mid 90’s, it became harder and harder to care.
When you reach a certain age, you begin to reminisce about childhood, about the things that once made you happiest. After years of outside forces defining and redefining your identity, you begin to search for the few things in your life that once had great meaning.
With all that in mind, my girlfriend and I took a trip down the interstate to watch the Mariners play the Blue Jays this past week. It’s a trek I made multiple times in my youth, dragging parents in tow. I fondly remember watching the Blue Jays in their heyday, and my boyhood hero, Nolan Ryan, pitch his final game in 1993.
Normally I’d be worried, bringing a woman to a three-and-a-half hour baseball game, but she is a cricket-watching Aussie and for her, baseball is the equivalent of a four second drag race. Three-and-a-half-hours isn’t enough time for an Australian to fill their gullet with meat pies and beer.
As we meander down the freeway we see the BC license plates of the few thousand remaining West Coast Blue Jays fans who still make the yearly trip down to Seattle. It’s not the weekend migration it used to be, but it’s a surprisingly large turnout nonetheless.
The Blue Jays are a team on the rise. Had they not played in baseball’s toughest division, they’d be playoff bound.
The Jays have just recalled one of baseball’s top prospects, the Great Canadian Hope, Langley’s own Brett Lawrie. Expectations are high. Comparisons to Larry Walker are obvious. Any chance of rekindling a fading West Coast fan base rests with Lawrie.
For Lawrie’s part, he possesses rare, attention-grabbing dynamism. He is electric at bat; anything could happen when he steps to the plate.
While on the Mariners side, they have another last place club, and their lone offensive superstar, Ichiro Suzuki, is entering his twilight. Interest in the team is waning with 2011 attendance at Safeco is at its lowest mark since the field’s inception.
Like many baseball games at this time of year, this one is a battle of teams whose fortunes are tied to next season.
Play begins as we take our seats, 15 rows up from the dugout along the third base side.
Ichiro leads off the first for the Mariners. The Mariners icon is showing signs of age – Ichiro’s 2011 batting average sits 50 points below his career mark of .327. In the grandstands, conversations stop and heads turn attentively towards the diamond. Fans sense there is little time left to watch a once remarkable player.
Later in the evening, I notice a similar attentiveness among Jays’ fans for Lawrie.
One set of fans watches the end of a hall of fame career, the other the possible beginnings of one. One set of fans is rife with nervous anticipation, the other nostalgic and calm.
The sun begins to set as the game plays out. We talk to all those around us, drinking beers and eating hot dogs. The people beside us are from Langley, here to watch Lawrie. My girlfriend chats away the night, telling anyone who will listen about intricacies of cricket.
I don’t care who wins and I suppose that’s part of the appeal. It's hot and sunny, and I've got a beer. More than anything, I’m cheering to see something amazing: a triple play, an inside the park home run, a foul ball in my lap.