Do you remember where you were the night of October 23, 2015?
I was sitting on the couch watching the Toronto Blue Jays play the final game of their season. They fell two wins short of advancing to the World Series.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t blink. I couldn’t do anything except stare at the television screen and watch the other team celebrate.
And as I sit here 164 days later, I have goosebumps just thinking about that night and the playoff run that I waited my entire life to see. It was magical.
But in just a few hours, last season will be just that – last season. Because today is Opening Day! Christmas in April! (No joke, it’s currently snowing outside). A new beginning!
The boys in blue will take the field and the entire country will once again come together and cheer on the team that made all of us jump up and down and scream at the top of our lungs.
Getting to this point, however, wasn’t easy.
Let’s go back.
The World Series ended, the off-season came and, well, things happened.
The Blue Jays brought in a new Team President – Mark Shapiro – from Cleveland.
I’ll be honest, that scared me. That scared many fans.
Cleveland? What have they ever won? What does this guy know about winning? And hey, isn’t he the guy that succumbed to Billy Beane’s trade tactics in Moneyball? Oh no, we’re screwed.
That was our mindset. Or, at least, it was mine.
But not only that, his arrival all of a sudden meant the departure of our General Manager – Alex Anthopoulos (AA).
AA was Canadian. AA built this team up from nothing. AA pulled off trades that we only thought were possible in video games. AA was a guest speaker at my university and I breathed the same air as him for about an hour.
Okay, I threw in that last one just for me. Nevertheless,
Toronto Canada loved the guy.
His contract was up and we all thought he would be back…
…and then he left.
AA claimed this “wasn’t the right fit.”
Alex, let’s talk. Can we just talk for a second? Alex, no. Please don’t go. Alex?
I felt like someone was breaking up with me.
He was a Canadian, walking away from the only Canadian team in the league. We were blindsided. We were angry. We smelled something funny.
Whether it’s true or not, word came out that if AA were to sign a new deal, he wouldn’t have full autonomy.
Translation: Mark Shapiro wanted his hands in the cookie jar whenever it was opened.
Translation: Ruh roh.
AA denies that. But what’s he going to do? Admit it? Heck no! Maybe we’ll get the real the story in twenty years on a documentary, but not now.
And then Shapiro brought over people from Cleveland to run our team.
It felt like the team we fell in love with had changed overnight.
Listen, Shapiro and has Cleveland colleagues are probably very nice individuals and I don’t doubt that they know a lot about baseball. They’ll probably even help take this team far! It’s nothing personal, really. It could’ve been anyone coming in to the organization and I (and other fans) would’ve reacted the same way.
It’s important to note that Shapiro has handled all the scrutiny with an incredible amount of grace and class. In time, fans will fully embrace him.
It’s just that we wanted Alex Anthopoulos. We got someone else. Simple as that.
So, that sucked.
Then free agency came and we let David Price walk away without even offering him an olive branch. Not even an olive branch!
So, we blamed Shapiro. Poor guy. Even though the reality was, the price was not right with David Price.
Sorry, I had to get one last pun in there.
And then focus shifted to Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. They both need new contracts after this season, but the chance of both of them staying is unlikely.
Rationally speaking, it makes a lot of sense. From a fan perspective, it’s all Shapiro’s fault. Again, poor guy.
I’m telling you, if AA were still here and he said we only had space to sign one of those two players, fans would be like, “Yes, no problem, we understand. Go forth and prosper, young grasshopper!”
Yeah, exactly like that.
It’s just hard to explain to an entire fan base why one, or two, of the team’s best players won’t be back after this season. Mainly because a lot of fans look at the company that owns the team and come to the conclusion: “they can afford it”.
It’s more complicated than that, sadly.
Anyways, the off-season came and went without a huge trade that we had grown accustomed to. AA always had something up his sleeve and no one heard about it until it was official.
This off-season? Trade rumours swirled like a toilet that had just been flushed.
It was abundantly clear that AA was gone. And he wasn’t coming back. (That last sentence was added for dramatic effect).
And if all of that wasn’t enough content to start a new daytime soap opera, Bautista’s bat flip from Game 5 of the ALDS was scrutinized for about five months.
I’m sick of hearing about it. I’m sick of hearing about how it’s disrespectful.
Seriously, just shut up.
David Ortiz has been flipping his bat and posing at home plate for the majority of his career. Why doesn’t anyone criticize Mr. Big Papi? Huh?
I simply don’t understand and will
fight have a thumb war with anyone who wants to make it seem like Bautista is the first person to ever throw his bat after a home run.
Give me a break.
I find it funny that no one had a problem with the entire Blue Jays bench jumping over the railing and celebrating on the field as Bautista rounded the bases. That seems like it would fit under a critics definition of “disrespectful”.
Deep breaths, Paul. Deep breaths.
Now the start of a new season is finally here and optimism is at an all-time high. So, too, are expectations.
“Expectations” is the most dangerous 12-letter word in sports.
It’s easy to look at this team on paper, as well as their accomplishments from last season, and expect another playoff appearance and possibly a World Series championship at the end.
A lot of people are saying that, which is fine.
Maybe I’ve been a Toronto sports fan for too long and have become skeptical whenever expectations are so high.
I don’t want to be the Debbie Downer, I really don’t.
We are now 162 games, plus two playoff rounds, away from the World Series. That’s a lot. We used to be two wins away. The mindset of being “so close” does not apply right now.
And I know it’s easy to expect this year to be exactly like last year. Trust me, I know.
Last year, the Blue Jays were relatively healthy the entire season and many players had outstanding years, statistically.
Can that happen two years in a row? I hope so!
But at this point, all I can do is hope.
Sports don’t always go “according to plan”.
You can’t predict the future. The Blue Jays weren’t picked to go as far as they did last year, but they did. Everyone can make their pre-season predictions and sound like an expert when they talk about advanced analytics, but all of them could be absolutely wrong.
“Prediction” is the most dangerous 10-letter word in sports.
You just never know.
This is new territory for a lot of Blue Jay fans, myself included. I don’t know really know how to act, or think, when my team is seen as the “favourite” and actually has the resume to back it up.
I do know this: the ride is worth it. The roller coaster of emotions that comes with a 162-game season (and playoffs), is worth it. Trusting the organization is worth it. Being a loyal fan is worth it.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget last season, or the emotions I felt during the playoffs. That being said, I can’t wait to find out what happens this season.
This is the season after.