Published On: Mon, Jan 23rd, 2017

Tim Kendall, others on Toronto baseball: is it entering a golden age?

It was a warm October afternoon when Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons announced, Toronto as a baseball city, was on fire. While a declaration of its kind would hardly be news in an American city, where the love of baseball is akin to apple pie and national pride, in Toronto, a city where hockey roots run so deep that it is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the announcement signaled a new era — an era of winning.

This reawakened love of baseball that was on display last fall, and will undoubtedly be rekindled once training camp ends and the regular season begins, is reminiscent of the outpouring of love that surrounded the Blue Jays during their 1993 season when they won the World Series.

Since then, no professional Toronto-based team has won a championship. While the Raptors and the Jays inch closer every year to bringing home the top honour, the Leafs, arguably the sports team that has put Toronto on the map, has been Stanley Cup devoid since 1967.

The pit left in the hearts of many fans by the constant disappointment of the city’s hockey team was the perfect place for the Raptors and Blue Jays to plant their seeds of fandom, and in the years since, that seed has sprouted and matured.

Now the Raptors and Jays are formidable sports teams in their own right, both selling out their respective stadiums nightly and generating a lot of media buzz and hype that was once reserved only for hockey.

Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club Stadium viewed from CN Tower
photo/ Jiaqian AirplaneFan

According to University of Toronto Kinesiology Professor John Cairney, Toronto’s new found love of baseball is a direct result of having a good team.  “The simple answer is they are winning,” said Cairney. “But I actually believe the popularity of the Blue Jays (and the Raptors for that matter) reflects the growing diversity of interest in sport in our society right now.”

The prolonged winning streak both the Jays and Raptors have experienced over the last few seasons has also imbued the city with a new confidence. In a 2016 article, Now Magazine asserted that the city’s recent sport success had finally ended the sport shame which envelopes the city every time the Leafs finish a season.

This communal pride isn’t only good for the teams, it is good for city-wide morale. As a result of Toronto’s new sports-centric status, hats and jerseys donning Toronto team names and logos are more popular than ever. Seeing a sea of Raptor’s jerseys or Blue Jays hats also goes a long way to fostering pride and respect subconsciously.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt when the players are also committed to the city. Last April, ahead of the Blue Jays best season in recent years, Blue Jays’ pitcher Marcus Stroman penned an open letter on The Players’ Tribune. In it Stroman writes of his love for Toronto, and he goes on to rebuke the city’s old moniker of Hockey City.

“I’m going to tell you something you probably didn’t know. Toronto is a baseball city,” wrote Stroman. “No, I’m serious. I know you probably don’t know this — especially if you don’t live here. You have to really experience it to know what I’m talking about. But just trust me.”

Baseball followers and those with career ties to the sport are also not surprised at baseball’s increasing popularity in Toronto.  Offering a scout’s point of view, Tim Kendall, an MLB certified scout, had this to say:  “Baseball is a sport everyone can enjoy and I think that translates well to new audiences …It also doesn’t hurt that it is a summer sport and people here try to get the most out of summer while it’s around.”

Tim Kendall also points to the various price points and large outdoor stadium as a factor.

“Spending a warm afternoon among thousands of your neighbours and fellow Torontonians is a spectacular thing,” added Kendall. “I think the future of baseball is particularly bright for Toronto.  There’s plenty of talented upcoming players and maybe even more importantly a ready and willing fan base.”

With a long 2017 season still ahead of us, it is refreshing to see fans and athletes heading into the season with an optimistic outlook, something that many Torontonians are still getting used to when it comes to sports teams.

Author: Andrew Cook

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