Sunday, January 8, 2012

They're Doing Something Right

I don’t know what the baseball offseason is like in, say, Arizona, where it stays warm all year round and a person could conceivably step out to the backyard and have a game of catch in early January without thinking twice about it.

I do, however, know what the offseason is like in Canada. In case you hadn’t noticed, it gets really freakin’ cold here. And there’s snow. And it lasts forever, or at least that’s what it feels like.

Let there be no doubt that those who settled this country a few hundred years ago were crazy people, which would be forgivable if they had foreseen that something as glorious as baseball might come along later. But they missed that too.

So today, there’s no skipping out to the neighbourhood park in January to chuck the ball around. Your ball glove is more likely packed away in the garage behind bags of salt to de-ice your driveway, a few snow shovels, and that huge box for your artificial Christmas tree.

It would be awfully easy for Canada’s only major league baseball team to just disappear from our frozen wasteland, both physically and mentally, until the spikes can at least penetrate the soil under the outfield grass again.

In fact, that’s exactly what they had been doing for several years. The season would wrap up in September; the casual fans would turn their attention to hockey or football or curling or whatever; and come April they’d need reminding that the Toronto Blue Jays still exist and play 162 baseball games every year.

The more obsessed fans, like yours truly, don’t go through this cycle, but make no mistake that a huge number of fans – and potential fans – still do. Simply allowing it to continue would represent a big missed opportunity for a team that has free rein to market itself coast-to-coast-to-coast to more than 30 million people.

The Jays used to run their “Winter Caravan” in years past as a way to try to connect with some of us, drawing us out of our igloos and ice fishing huts and what-not. For some reason, they stopped for a long time. Maybe it wasn't as successful as they'd have liked for the money they spent; I don't know. But it was an effort. Even if it was just the most dedicated fans that turned up to see a couple major-leaguers up close, at least they got the chance.

So when I took the eldest of the Org Kids with me to St. Laurent Centre (a run-of-the-mill Ottawa mall) this afternoon, I similarly expected to see maybe a few hundred hardcore fans on hand to have a brief interaction with Casey Janssen, Ricky Romero, Brett Lawrie, and J.P. Arencibia.

We got there at 12:20 for an autograph session that began at 1:30, and we were lucky to get in line in time. The lineup snaked down the mall and kept building for at least two more hours. Blue Jays caps, jerseys, t-shirts and other paraphernalia, old and new, were abundant. One guy wore a batting helmet with two Jays flags taped to it. I had no idea this kind of excitement about the Jays simmered under the surface in my city, and here it was on display.

It’s really easy to gripe about the state of the Toronto Blue Jays, the lean years since the glories of 1992 and 1993, those cheap fucks at Rogers, or the price of beer at Skydome. We generate, and are exposed to, more negativity about the game and team we love than ever before.

But today, a huge number of fans stood in line for hours to get a chance to meet four Toronto Blue Jays and maybe have them sign an autograph. I’d wager most of them didn’t get a chance, but lined up anyway. But standing there in line, I didn’t hear grumbling or moaning about Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, or some other outrage of the week. People were just excited about the Blue Jays in Ottawa. IN JANUARY.

My five-year-old got a hug and a high-five from Ace, did the fist-bump-blow-it-up thing with Arencibia and Lawrie, got an autographed ball, and I don’t think I’ve seen him happier since he opened his presents on Christmas morning. He can’t wait for baseball season to start so he can see those guys play.

Oh, and we both got a free toque.

Sometimes we ought to recognize when this team is doing something right.


Matthew E said...

We got there at 1:10, twenty minutes early, and stood in line for two hours without getting anywhere near the front of the line. I never even saw the part where you go back and forth in the velvet ropes. My son got to high-five Ace; that was it. I was really surprised; I had no idea that such a turnout was even possible. If they come back next year, I'm lining up a lot earlier than that.

Anonymous said...

cool toque

Baseball Hats said...

In the long run strength will help you in the sport so if this doesn't work for you, I would find a workout that does challenge you without draining you.

Anonymous said...

I got the the mall at noon thinking that it was plenty early enough but didn't reach the front of the line until 3 to see the boys and there were still hundreds behind me. Good times though

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 12:19 - I hope you got a chance to meet them. They were talking like 3PM was a pretty firm cutoff for the players to leave.

@Matthew E - I really, really felt bad standing there in line and seeing people arriving later with their excited-looking kids, with a suspicion that they wouldn't get a chance to meet the players. Kinda was breaking my heart, actually. I don't know what I'd tell my boy. Hope you managed to get some enjoyment out of it at least.

Anonymous said...

Yup, got a jersey signed. The players, and the jays employees especially looked a little overwhelmed. They were herding you through quickly as possible so there was just time for a hey and a thanks to each player but that was understandable.

Steve02 said...

I got there at about 11:45 just in case and was super glad I went when I did. I was blown away with the number of people who all showed up in Ottawa. Lots of happy kids (Arencibia & Lawrie were great with them), a free toque, and autographs that all cost nothing but some time: great!

Phil said...

And the guys looked great wearing the Senators heritage jerseys when they were interviewed at the hockey game!

NorthYorkJays said...

Well written piece, and good news to read. Thanks for sharing.

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