(By: Sean Addis)
“Touch em all Joe, you will never hit a bigger homerun in your life!” called the great Tom Cheek, former Hall of Fame Toronto Blue Jays radio announcer. The city had just celebrated a second straight World Series title. Baseball was alive and thriving, and the city of Toronto – champions. Those days felt like they would never end. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Entering this season, the Toronto Blue Jays had the longest playoff drought of any major sports team in North America. Playoff baseball had become a history lesson that older generations reminisced about and younger fans yearned to experience for the first time.
Many lifelong baseball fans hoped this year would be different, and after a flurry of deadline deal trades in July, the team played baseball not seen north of the border since the early 90’s. They captured the American League East title and the attention of the city along with it. Playoff baseball arrived in Toronto and it energized the city and provided it with the feelings of highs, lows and memorable moments that only come with playoffs.
Each post-season game was played in a sold-out Rogers Centre packed with 50,000 fans. Toronto had over the years been described as a conservative crowd – that they will only stand for the final strike in a game and focus more on attempting to do the wave. Well not these playoff crowds; from the first pitch to the last out the “rally towels” were waved to create a sea of white. The number of people standing for most of the game was significant and anyone who attempted to start the wave was greeted with “It’s playoff baseball, sit down!”
The noise of 50,000 fans in a closed dome was at times deafening, to the point where New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez said it was the loudest crowd in the majors. Who would of thought? But I guess 22 years without the playoffs made this fan base hungrier and more appreciative of the magnitude of these playoffs. A whole generation had never experienced playoff baseball until this year. They watched other cities and teams enjoy success, and there were times that it seemed the opportunity would never come north of the border again. This was a united fan base with common bond, their love for the Toronto Blue Jays, and that pride was louder than ever before.
Undoubtedly, the game that best exemplified the emotions of the fans was game five in the American League Championship series. A winner takes all game that had a wide range of emotions compacted into one inning. At the top of the 7th, an incorrect umpire ruling that put the Texas Rangers ahead sent the fan base into a fit of shock, anger and rage. Beer cans, objects and profanity came from the stands. “Is this how the season would end?” I asked, “We can’t lose because of this unusual play?” Feelings of fear and devastation started to creep into the fans (including myself) with the call and the actions of some of the unruly fans. But what happened next was unbelievable.
In the bottom of the inning three errors loaded the bases and one out later we were tied. The shock of how that unfolded was numbing and myself and other fans were stunned, but when Jose Bautista hit the shot heard around Toronto the stadium shook with excitement. I can honestly say that for a moment it all became a blur as tears, joy, excitement enveloped myself and everyone in the stands. People were screaming, hugging, high fiving and crying. I received a text from RTA sports media student, Jhonattan Ardila, who wrote “those are the kinds of emotions and stories that only sports can give you” and he is right. At the end of that game hope and excitement had reenergized this city for the first time since the Joe Carter World Series home run in 1993.
Regrettably the season ended without a World Championship, as Toronto lost to Kanas City, in the American League Championship Series best of seven 4-2. But even in the final loss the team kept pushing their opponents until the final out. This was reminiscent of the team and the fan base it represented. What this playoff and postseason run did was wet the appetite for competitive baseball in Toronto. We want more! We want to do it again, not in 22 years but next year. This team is built for success now, they have owners with big pockets and a fan base hungry for more. These make a strong foundation for 2016. Next season can’t come fast enough.