Sports

Love your Jays while they're young, Toronto, for the bloom will quickly fade

John Robertson April 4 1977
Sports

Love your Jays while they're young, Toronto, for the bloom will quickly fade

John Robertson April 4 1977

Love your Jays while they're young, Toronto, for the bloom will quickly fade

John Robertson

I don’t know what you plan to do for kicks this summer, but I am going to find some excuse to haul my tired typewriter over to Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium to follow the Blue Jays, if only for a series or two, as they toddle through their first American League season. Look, champions come and go in all sports, right? Puffed up as they are by the inflated importance we attach to them, even such “there’s no tomorrow” classics as the Grey Cup, World Series, Stanley Cup and Super Bowl keep coming back like the Avon Lady. Ding! Dong! Sports immortality is calling!

It is a rare and rapturous experience to watch an entire team being born, struggle awkwardly to its feet, endure embarrassment day after day, lose more than 100 times in a season, but win just enough, maybe 50 or so, to keep bringing the fans back. I want to relive, if only for a week, the joie de vivre of the summer of’69 at Jarry Park in Montreal, when we were all so enthralled by the passing parade of such legendary teams as the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Reds that nobody took much notice of the 110 losses the Expos achieved. I recall dubbing Jarry Park the world’s largest bilingual outdoor loony bin, because every night was Mardi Gras, win or lose. And we didn’t miss a night because we knew it wouldn’t last: that the honeymoon would end when the media and the fans gradually became more demanding and the home team couldn’t respond. But that first look at that first team? It’s like your first car ... or your first love. You are too wrapped up in the ecstasy of the moment to care how many miles it/she has on it/her.

Will Toronto baseball fans loosen their inhibitions and react the same way Montrealers did in 1969? I’m sure of it, and I’ll tell you why. Just as baseball is like no other sport, baseball fans are a breed apart. First of all, it’s the only major team sport left with ticket prices still within reach of the working stiff. I’m talking about the guy who carries a lunch bucket and likes to take his family along when he goes to a game. In Toronto, you practically need a blood test to get a decent Leaf or Argo ticket, or you have to know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy etc. You don’t go to these games on a whim, and when you do go odds are it blows the entertainment budget for the next month. The same situation existed in Montreal before the Expos came along. Canadien hockey tickets weren’t just bought; they were willed from father to son. The real fans were in the taverns, rooting raucously for

the Habs on the tube. Suddenly the Expos came to town and these same tavern fans would drive home from work, suggest that the whole family go to the ball game, and know that (a) the tickets would be plentiful, and that (b) the price would be right.

I used to sit in the press box at Jarry Park and watch entire families stream in, munching hot dogs, swilling beer or pop, their pockets laden with peanuts, Cracker Jack and Expo souvenirs. It’s much more a picnic than a sporting event. You can come to the park a couple of hours before game time, watch batting practice, and have a good shot at going down to the dugout railing and getting an autograph from a Pete Rose or a Johnny Bench. You lose track of time altogether because baseball is the only major team sport not governed by the clock. There’s enough time between plays to grandstand manage, to lay one-liners on the umpire or the opposing players, to enjoy and savor a cold beer (well, in Montreal you can) or a good cigar. Yet the action, when it explodes, is as spectacular as you’ll see in any sport. A rifle throw from the outfield cutting down a runner at the plate ... a bases-loaded triple ... the squeeze bunt... the ballet-like pivot on the double play.

And Toronto fans won’t fully appreciate how lucky they are to have it all in front of them, like we did eight years ago in Montreal, before we started taking the scoreboard far too seriously. That first year we all felt lucky just to have a ball game to go to every night. The players were affable, approachable and grateful that expansion had given them another shot at the big time. The manager was not under any undue pressure to win, and the writers were too busy learning their own way around the league to begin being critical. All too soon, though, the harpoons will begin to fly. Like the time a visiting writer asked then-Expo manager Gene Mauch where his club needed strengthening most. “I need more starting pitching,” said Gene. “I need help in the bullpen. I need some speed on the bases and in the outfield. But if you’re talking about congenital weakness, I guess you could say that we are in dire straits in the press box.”

Where will the Blue Jays finish?

In Toronto.

Before you groan too loudly, answer me this: When the American League put an expansion team into Seattle in 1969, where did it finish? In Milwaukee. So play ball! and relax and enjoy it.