Baseball is about moments.
Anyone who’s played the game understands the power of a split second. Baseball requires a cruel mix of patience and reflex, where everything takes so long and then happens so suddenly. Nothing matches the raw potential of a batter’s swing, a gamble on which games are won and lost in the blink of an eye.
That’s why 48,857 fans packed the Rogers Centre for the 2013 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays’ opening night. They yearned for moments, craved those seconds of anticipation before whatever followed. When the team lined up along the third-base line even before the game’s first pitch, the crowd burst their lungs welcoming new faces—Dickey, Reyes, Buehrle, Johnson, Cabrera. They somehow saved a breath for returning heroes—Bautista, Encarnacion, Morrow, Arencibia. Before anyone could exhale, an enormous Canadian flag was unfurled in centre field (and right field, and left field), and Dorothy Wade belted out the country’s anthem. More moments, cherished in anticipation of the main event.
The Jays rewarded the packed stadium with a quick first inning. The sea of blue baseball caps, scads of fans who donned the what’s-old-is-new lids, let loose at every strike tossed by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. In the end, as it turned out, it just wasn’t Dickey’s night. The Indians outplayed the home side, and the crowd’s electricity dampened even before the second inning had wrapped.
But that’s not exactly the point. Fans love wins the most, but they’ll always appreciate moments.
In the seventh inning, Jays reliever Aaron Loup caught shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera attempting to steal second base. The crowd roared. That was Loup’s moment. Later that inning, a fan on the third-base side caught a screaming line drive of a foul ball, effortlessly, and held the ball high. The crowd roared. That was his moment. In the eighth inning, Jays reliever Sergio Santos struck out the only two batters he faced, including an inning-ending heater that screamed past Indians’ third-baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. The crowd, if a little weary, roared. That was Santos’ moment.
The home team trailed 4-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning. The top of the order came to the plate: Reyes, Cabrera and modern legend Jose Bautista, the man who’s hit more home runs than anyone else since 2010, all in a row. Reyes flied out and Cabrera grounded out, in short order. Then, Bautista worked reliever Vinnie Pistano to a full count.
The crowd got to its feet. Forty-eight thousand lungs caught fire. The moment came. Bautista girded. He let loose.
The ball landed in the catcher’s mitt behind him. Fans streamed out by the dozens. They’d waited all game for that at-bat, that split second, that single crack of the bat, and their hero whiffed.
Still, there was another inning to play. Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia doubled in the bottom of the ninth. The crowd, anemic but in search of a miracle, belched out its appreciation. With two outs and a man on second, the remaining thousands again stood tall. Centre fielder Colby Rasmus walked to the plate, a comeback’s last hope.
And he, too, swung and missed for the final out.
Most people left the ballpark disappointed. But the die-hard among them, those fans who recognize those split seconds of glory, will be back. Never mind the frustration of strikeouts and errors and missed opportunities and losses. The bad times are always worth it for those other moments, those triple plays and circus catches and game-winning home runs. Those are split seconds no fan ever forgets.