This story was originally published in the Sept. 21 edition of Sportsnet magazine.
Every Toronto sports fan of a certain age comes loaded with a deeply ingrained reluctance to get too excited about anything. And who could blame them? When you’ve been burned time and time again by your local sports franchises, who annually sell an ultimately false bill of goods built on hope and promise, you get pretty jaded.
And so there’s been a hesitancy from some corners toward the Toronto Blue Jays, as the two-decades-without-a-post-season ballclub has blitzkrieged its way through the American League since turning over 20 percent of its roster at the trade deadline. August was the best month in franchise history—the team went 21-6, outscoring its opponents 170–83.
A lot of days they looked great; most days they looked unbeatable. But there was still a sect of Jays fans thinking it had to be a mirage. That the other shoe must be somewhere, hanging above all of this, waiting for the most soul-crushing moment possible to flatten what goodwill has been generated.
But maybe it won’t. Maybe this is the time that Toronto wins. I thought about that as I watched a flurry of hats rain down on the playing surface at Rogers Centre in August following an epic, as-if-scripted grand slam from Edwin Encarnacion that shook the very foundation of the building as it cleared the wall in right field.
It was his third homer of the game—and his 10th in a month that will go down as one of the most ludicrously productive any player has ever had for the Blue Jays (teaming with Josh Donaldson to become the only teammates other than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig with 10 home runs and 35 RBI each in a month).
The 46,444 delirious fans on hand spontaneously began throwing their lids, causing a five-minute break in play as blue-shirted employees scampered around collecting them and Encarnacion soaked it all in from the dugout with a smile you can’t fake.
I’d never seen anything like it, and I’d never seen anything like Encarnacion in the clubhouse after the game, grinning from ear to ear, posing for pictures at his locker with a translucent garbage bag full of hats. Wasn’t that something? Couldn’t you see that photo on the cover of a World Series program?
Look, I know. I grew up in Toronto. I’m 28 years old. I’ve seen an awful lot of losers lose. People older than me have seen a lot more. But what I’ve never seen is a team that was 50-51 and eight games out of first place on July 28 make a pair of trades that stunned the baseball world before promptly savaging every opponent in their path, on the way to being 74-56 and on top of the division a month later.
I’ve never seen a team score runs so explosively, so prolifically as to have a lead of more than 100 on the second-highest-scoring team in the majors and a run differential north of 200. I’ve never seen an atmosphere at the ballpark that was this electric, this consistently hair-raising, teetering on the brink of bedlam with every high-leverage at-bat.
I’ve never seen a lineup somehow outdo its own unbelievable performance night after night, routinely making big-league pitching resemble batting practice. I’ve never seen a baseball crowd shower the field with hats.
I’ve never seen this.
I can’t imagine a Toronto baseball team—or any Toronto sports team—has ever looked this world-beating, decades-old World Series banners hanging in centre field be damned. It’s been 22 years since they hung those flags and 22 years since even so much as a playoff berth, which is both the longest drought in North American professional sports and the most incessantly, cynically, joy-crushingly referenced fact that has absolutely nothing to do with the present-day team.
I don’t know, maybe if I was old enough to create memories back in ’92 and ’93, I’d buy into the nostalgia and keep forever staring backwards. But I wasn’t. And besides, at some point, you have to appreciate what you have instead of what you had.
So how about we just enjoy it?
Enjoy the exhilarating, fully charged moments that make your skin crawl with anxiety and anticipation, like Troy Tulowitzki’s 12-pitch Tarantino-fight-scene of an at-bat versus Yankees closer Andrew Miller, or Donaldson’s full-count, two-out, two-run triple off Cleveland’s next-level-locked-in Danny Salazar as “MVP! MVP!” chants rang out around him. Enjoy every sky-scraping September home run that falls into a jam-packed crowd of hysterical fans. Enjoy every dominant victory, every sign that this time, it’s for real. Because it might just be.