Separating the Blue Jays, and baseball in general, out from who I am now is like trying to point out what parts of my body come from all the cereal I ate as a kid. It’s just in there. Like most people my age in Toronto, and in much of Canada, I grew up on the team. So when I hear the term bandwagoner being tossed around I don’t know what to say. I suppose I could be one of those. It’s not as though I’d have been able to tell you how many games the Jays were out of first place at any stage in the last 15 years. And when dad and I go to the yearly game I get him tickets for on Father’s day we have to preface most in-game observations with: “I don’t know much about [player’s name] but…” And then we eventually fall back to reminiscing about the Bells, Barfields, Stewarts and Stiebs of my youth. We still cheer like hell when we go though; you should know this.
But if I’m jumping on a bandwagon, what about all those nights I lay awake picturing impossible leaping catches off that dark blue outfield fence. The days spent throwing a tennis ball against the garage door and fielding it in a glove I’d sat on in the car and at the dinner table and on the couch, with rubber bands wrapped around two baseballs in the pocket to break it in. All of the stats I once knew; the cards collected in protective sleeves and handled like they were tiny pieces of my heroes themselves; the ticket order form filled out when the snow was still deep on the ground, with the boxes for first, second, and third choice seats in the nosebleeds ticked off, hoping we’d score something close to my late-July birthday.
The games of pop-up 500 after a late afternoon thundershower had rolled dark and wet over the suburbs of Scarborough in August. Knocking on neighbourhood doors to get enough kids together so we could all jostle at one end of the street and catch rain-soaked tennis balls that kicked bits of gravel all over your face when you caught them. 100 points for making the grab in the air, 75 for a single bounce, 50 for a double, 25 for a grounder. The first to 500 got a turn at the bat if we had one, if not then a tennis racket and failing that you just hoofed the ball up into the sky in a way that would put most adults’ back out. A running debate about who was Devon White throughout, and fierce derision if that kid who liked the Yankees showed up wearing his NY hat. Imagine trying to claim you were Don Mattingly.
My pops and granddad going to a game in Exhibition Stadium in 1985 on a cool, crisp evening when the old guy – now long since gone – was in town from Victoria. And when I woke up one of them, I never did know which one, had quietly come into my room in and gently placed a white pennant on my bedside table with the words A.L. Eastern Division Champions improbably emblazoned across it.
The afternoons and evenings in the fall of ’92 and ’93 when I crouched on the beige carpet of our living room and made a strange humming noise that I saved for Very Important At Bats. Hoping that my strange sound waves would make it out through the open window, along the 401, and down the Don Valley to the dome to add to the din that last, infinitesimal amount needed to disrupt the game in our favour. And it working.
And then there is now. Walking down a long, empty road in Florida, where I’m on the job in a shipyard for a couple of months, to get to a suburban bar just off US 1. They did have the game on a side TV by the register, but the bartender wouldn’t turn it up over the ambient music. So over the sounds of senior citizens eating mahi-mahi and Cindy Lauper singing was me, cheering like a crazy person when Bautista stuck his exclamation point in the middle of that lame sentence life was trying to pass off as the ending to this team’s drama. And then walking back to the shipyard after in the darkand I suspect if a car had happened to pass down that long stretch of road its headlights wouldn’t have lit up a 36-year old father of two with a beard, but rather an 11-year old kid in beater running shoes and a washed out Jays shirt jumping up and down and fist pumping in the dark; all skinny legs, elbows and grins the entire way back.
So am I a bandwagoner? Maybe. That’s up to you and I won’t be going after you on it. But I will be cheering; as will my younger self who remains deeply disappointed that we didn’t at least become a batboy, or get our hands on a Mark McGwire rookie card, and will never again follow the Blue Jays with the obsessed passion we once did. And yet is grateful that at least these days when we go to games we sometimes sit in the 100-level, and is looking forward to taking our two young children down to the dome. Where we’ll all cheer like hell.