The Toronto Blue Jays have found themselves stuck in the middle of the AL East for years. With a revamped lineup and a hungry fanbase, the time to win again is now.
The Toronto Blue Jays took to the field in Dunedin, Florida on Tuesday for their first Spring Training tuneup in preparation for their April 6 season opener in New York against the Yankees. But excuse them if they go through the Spring routine looking a little nervous – the pressure is on in 2015.
After an offseason where Jays management went out and added the likes of Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders to a nucleus that includes Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Jose Bautista, the expectations to win in Toronto are as high as the CN Tower. When looking around at an American League East that includes a Yankees team in transition, a Red Sox team that’s tough to read, an Orioles franchise that has been revived after years of futility, and a Rays team that’s having to be as budget-conscious as they’ve ever been, it’s safe to say that management and fans see an opportunity for the Blue Jays to capture at least a spot in the one-game wild card playoff in October.
Speaking of those fans in Toronto, they’re hungry to root for a winner – very hungry. While the Raptors have improved their product over the past year or so, the future of the city’s CFL team is very much in flux and don’t even get the locals started on the Maple Leafs. It’s been a winter of paper bags over heads, tossing jerseys in anger, and just heartbreak in general for a city whose love for their Leafs runs very deep.
If a Jays team could be in first place in August or September, it could ignite a buzz for the franchise that the city hasn’t seen since the days of Joe Carter and the World Series titles in the early 1990’s.
But because expectations are high, another season of disappointment could hurt the franchise. In recent years the value of the franchise has steadily risen and Rogers Communications, the corporation that owns the Blue Jays, has fostered goodwill by doing things like dumping the old, odd silver and black “Jays” logo for the cleaner, more classic blue look that embraces the history of the franchise. Add in the fact that the Toronto fans get to watch Jose Bautista hone his craft on a nightly basis, and all these positive steps have led to an uptick in attendance.
In 2010, the Jays were ranked dead last in Major League Baseball, filling the Rogers Centre at just 39.9 percent capacity. Fast forward to 2013 where they filled the park up at 63.6 percent capacity, which ranked 20th in baseball that season, beating out the likes of the Braves, Diamondbacks, and Padres at the box office. While they still have a ways to go, there’s a big difference between a 60-percent full stadium and one that’s more than half empty.
If the Blue Jays spend 2015 doing what they’ve done in recent years, get off to a solid start only to have a June swoon and fall out of the playoff picture from there, all the goodwill that has slowly been built over the years will go out the window. In other words, the fans in Toronto no longer just want to go to the ballpark to eat their hot dogs, watch Bautista swing the bat, and reminisce about those World Series days. They want to see the Jays take down the class of the American League.
A winning Blue Jays team wouldn’t just be good for the city of Toronto, it would be good for baseball in general. Having the Jays in the postseason would be another feather in the parity cap of Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig, who touted in his final years as commissioner that his efforts led to teams like the Pirates, Royals, and Orioles all returning to relevancy. It would generate more interest for baseball in Canada at a time when the game is growing there, and the storyline of the Jays making the playoffs for the first time in 22 years could capture the imagination of non-Jays fans much the same way the Kansas City Royals’ playoff run did last fall.
If it all works out in 2015 for the Jays, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos will be hailed as a hero in the city and the franchise will be rejuvenated as they join the ranks of other Major League teams that have made the postseason in recent seasons after long absences. If it doesn’t, then the futility for the franchise will reach even lower depths.
No pressure at all Jays. Just tens of thousands of Toronto’s disgruntled sports fans now turning their desperate eyes to you.