18 years. It has been 18 years since the Toronto Blue Jays have played in a World Series game. It has been 18 years since the Blue Jays have played in a playoff game, and if we’re being realistic, it’s been 18 years since the Blue Jays were realistic contenders for the postseason. Last year the Blue Jays finished fourth in the American League East, 16 games back of the division winning Yankees, and 10 games back of the wildcard Rays. So all of that said, it’s safe to assume that the hockey city those Blue Jays call home won’t be embracing the team with all of it’s heart. Except it is. Ooh how the Blue Jays have been buzzing the city all winter long. Yes they released new jerseys, moving back to a look VERY similar to that of their glory years, and yes they had a great breakout half-season from Brett Lawrie, but this feels like something different. The city seems to embracing this team like they did in the late 80′s and early 90′s, when my elementary school played “OK Blue Jays” over the PA system every day, and my math teacher taught us fractions and averages using Kelly Gruber, Manny Lee and their batting statistics. The city seems to have fallen back in love with the Toronto Blue Jays. The combination of having a young team seemingly on the rise and having (probably) the best player in the sport has really gripped the fans. Why though? Back in 2006 the Jays had the best pitcher in the game, had added the two most sought after pitchers available in free agency(AJ Burnett and BJ Ryan) as well as perennial All-Star Troy Glaus and league doubles champion Lyle Overbay. Everyone thought they were on the verge of going back to the promised land. Even with Uncle Ted opening his wallet and the team looking the best it had since 1993 there wasn’t anywhere close to the hype there has been all of this offseason. I believe there are 3 key reasons: The Maple Leafs playoff drought, Jose Bautista and his eruption the past 2 seasons and what I believe is the biggest factor, the players’ grasp on social media.
It would be foolish not to accept the fact that the normally hockey obsessed fans in the greater Toronto area have become fed up with their club’s ineptitude and are starting to look at the Blue Jays as both a rising star and fresh option. This is not unlike the way the Blue Jays captured those of us in the 30-plus demographic during the great Leaf abomination known as the 1980′s. Most fans under 30 won’t have a strong memory of the Jays World Series wins in the early 90s and this team right now probably feels to them like it did for us when we realized we had a special team playing something other than hockey. Even with the Leafs hot start this year, the Jays talk hasn’t ceased since the baseball season ended. With the Leafs slipping out of contention at the same time as Spring Training, the Jays obsession in this city is primed to hit a fever pitch.
There is also no way we can discount Jose Bautista and his effect on the city. After smashing the Blue Jay single season home run record in 2010 he had an even more impressive 2011. Sure his HR total slipped from 54 to 43, but the rest of his game absolutely exploded. He showed dramatic improvement in walks, OBP, OPS and his batting average came up a whopping FORTY-TWO points to .302. Jose Bautista went from being one of the most dangerous power hitters, to being one of the best overall hitters in the game. Add to all of this the fact that he is one of the premier defensive outfielders in the game; his speed makes him akin to having another center fielder, and he possesses an arm not seen at the SkyDome since Shawn Green patrolled that same right field. Green won a gold glove in 1999 for his incredible defense and most believe had he not spent a significant part of the season patrolling third base, Jose would have accepted his first Gold Glove last year. Bautista is the first legitimate “five-tool” Blue Jay since Roberto Alomar, and we know where Robbie ended up last summer. Even though the Jays had Roy Halladay for years, and many will argue that Roy was more dominating than Jose, there is something to be said about having that superstar player you can march out on the field every single day. It gives the fans something to be excited about every day they come to the park, and a reason to come on any day as opposed to every fifth. Roy Halladay was a phenomenal talent and a great ambassador for the team, but Jose Bautista provides something Roy never could: daily excitement. Jose Bautista makes you want to go to the game every day.
I’ve already explained that the Leafs slide has had an impact on the Jays popularity, and how Jose Bautista has added immensely to that. Both of those however, pale in comparison to the effect that social media has had on the team. Yes every team in every sport has access to the same tools. Pretty much every team in existence has a facebook page and a twitter account. What makes the Blue Jays stand out from the pack is the way the players have embraced it. The Jays have no fewer than 11 roster players currently using Twitter and oh boy do they ever do it right. They are constantly cajoling one another about everything. Last year when Brett Cecil(who deleted his account midseason, the rumour being that it had been hacked) was sent down to the minors the players missed him so much that they tweeted him pictures of the goldfish they had named “Squints” after him. Travis Snider(@lunchboxhero45), the early MVP of Jays tweeters is famous for always tweeting about food, specifically all of the meat he likes to consume. His #meatsdontclash hashtag has been seen on many a sign at the ballpark and there have even been t-shirts made up with the phrase. The current belt-holder for Blue Jay tweeting champion however is catcher J.P. Arencibia(@jparencibia9). J.P. easily “gets” the power of twitter more than any other baseball player I’ve seen. He regularly uses it to ask locals for tips about things in Toronto, has tweeted about his failed attempt at renting a bixi bike(much funnier than it sounds), regularly updates his followers of the goings-on with his dog “Yogi”, and has parlayed his success with the social media tool into a clothing line for his favourite hashtag “#teamunit”. J.P. makes the 70,000 people who follow him feel as though they really know him, like they would be friends with him if only they’d grown up together. He is the epitome of twitter-savvy and shows what being so can do for a guy who hit .219(to be fair he did set the Jays record for HR by a catcher with 23).
Even with an extra wildcard spot in play, there is no way to tell if the Jays are going to be playing meaningful baseball in September. What we can bank on however is being able to watch one of the best and most exciting players in the game every day, being able to follow along with the guys as they prank each other, hearing about how Ricky Romero eats pancakes on the morning of every game he pitches, and connecting with the players even if it’s just on our end. We’ll continue to become more and more attached to this team until the fever of the early 90′s returns because they are doing it the right way. Honestly, after 45 years of ineptitude aren’t you done with the Leafs anyway??