|Where my love for baseball began.|
As you can probably tell by this blog, baseball is one of my true passions. It’s something I couldn’t imagine my life without. Baseball is a sport that I loved dearly as a child, and as an adult I have grown to understand and appreciate the subtleties of the game.
But things haven’t quite always been this way. I’m a little ashamed to say I haven’t always been a loyal fan. There’s a dark part of my past when I didn’t even follow the Toronto Blue Jays … let alone baseball.
So I figured there’s no better time than Valentine’s Day to tell the story of my break-up and make-up with baseball.
Of course, it all started with Little League Baseball. It was (and still is) a rite of passage for many young Canadians, as baseball used to be the preeminent summer past time across the country.
Although my dreams of becoming a Major Leaguer never came to fruition, I loved playing ball as a kid. The grassroots level is where I truly discovered my passion for playing the game and it lead to my fascination with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Much like snap bracelets, Hypercolor shirts and Pogs, being a Blue Jays fan simply was the cool thing to do at the time. My parents really didn’t facilitate my curiosity about the Blue Jays, but rather it was my parents’ friends and their kids who nudged be towards the team.
They were the ones who took me to my very first Blue Jays game on October 3rd, 1992. The day was pretty significant because it was the game the Blue Jays clinched the AL East with a 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers.
The game ended with a cavalcade of fireworks, and at the time I had no clue the Jays clinched the division. I just assumed they celebrated every win that way.
Not surprisingly, my interest in baseball and the Blue Jays was at its peak during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, but then something came along that derailed my interest in the sport entirely: the strike.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who fell out of love with baseball. According to numbers provided by Little League Canada, enrollment in Little League Baseball dropped 11.1 percent following the 1994 MLB strike. Numbers declined from 78,827 players in 1994 to 70,027 in 1995.
Consider myself part of that 11.1 percent who failed to pick up a bat, ball or glove after 1994. To that point, I had spent 3-4 years in little league baseball and loved every minute of it. But when the time came to sign up again in 1995, there weren’t even enough kids to assemble a team.
Unfortunately, that was the day when a part of my passion for baseball flickered out. It was as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. Not only could I not play baseball, I couldn’t even watch it. As a young impressionable mind, there was no quicker way to kill my interest in the game than that deadly combination.
As my love for the Toronto Blue Jays dwindled, I subsequently took an interest in the NFL and the San Francisco 49’ers. The combination of Steve Young and Jerry Rice garnered my interest during the mid-90’s, taking the place of my former beloved Blue Jays.
However, like most couples that are destined to be together forever … there was a reconciliation. My make-up with baseball began in 1998. Similar to many fans that were on the outs with the sport, it was the home run chase of ’98 that brought me back in.
It was a magical time in baseball; Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa single-handedly reinvigorated a game that had lost most of its lustre in the middle of the decade. The prospect of seeing McGwire or Sosa go yard at any given moment brought baseball back to the forefront.
|Image courtesy of SI Vault|
The steroid era of baseball did not come without consequences, but at the time it sure was fun to watch. Like most fans, I turned a blind eye to the realities of performance enhancing drugs and just lived in the moment.
Judgment day would eventually come for McGwire and Sosa, but at the time they were heralded as heroes for the game of baseball. Donning Greek God garb, Sports Illustrated deemed the sluggers as 1998 Sportsmen of the Year.
What happened in baseball during the late nineties and early 2000’s may have been questionable, however it certainly brought baseball back into the fold once again. Baseball and I weren’t back together again, but it was back on my radar.
For the next five or six years, the Blue Jays were always in the back of my mind, but never at the forefront. I checked in every so often when they were trying to hold onto the Wild Card or when a significant trade took place.
Then for some reason or another, I was looking for an excuse to wear my 1992 Blue Jays jersey to school (which incidentally, didn’t fit me when my mom bought it for me originally in 1994, but finally did fit in 2005.)
I instrumented a “Blue Jays Day” at school that day, but I was the lone participant. Nonetheless, it re-stoked the fires of passion for baseball. I followed the Blue Jays throughout the 2005 season, not religiously, but checked in on them every so often.
It was the 2005 off-season that really got me excited about the Blue Jays once again. The club signed A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Bengie Molina, and traded to get Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay. Even though I wasn’t extremely familiar with this incarnation with the Blue Jays, I recognized this spending meant Toronto wanted to win again.
Ever since that turning point in 2005, my Blue Jays fandom has been rekindled and has been growing progressively each year. It’s funny to think the catalyst that helped me fall back in love with the Blue Jays was a silly “Blue Jays Day”.
Looking back, I regret missing those years from 1995-2004. I missed the meteoric rise of Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, and even Roger Clemens’ award-winning (albeit allegedly drug-enhanced) tenure as a Toronto Blue Jay.
There’s no question the 1994 MLB strike took down a lot of casualties. In fact, I know some folks who used to be diehard baseball fans and still haven’t forgiven baseball for what happened. The majority of them being Montreal Expos fans, and frankly I don’t blame them for still being upset.
Luckily, my break-up and make-up with baseball has a happy ending. We are reunited once again, and after a nine year hiatus, my fondness for baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays truly came full circle.
It’s the Blue Jays I have to thank for bridging the gap between my childhood and adulthood. And to think … the catalyst for this reunion was a jersey that was too big for me as a child, but now fits me perfectly as an adult.
I guess you could say baseball symbolizes my childhood. It reminds me of a time when I had an unadulterated love for the game … when times where simpler and when baseball overshadowed everything. Thus, baseball will always hold a special place in my heart.
Maybe that’s why I gravitated back towards the sport and the team I used to love so much as a kid. Because like many of us, I was simply trying to recapture part of that magical feeling of being a child once again.
For what it’s worth, it really doesn’t matter how or why you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, or baseball in general. Maybe you have an affinity for the Blue Jays because of their sharp new uniforms. Maybe it’s because your dad loved the Blue Jays, and he passed that affinity for the team on to you.
All that really matters is you’re a fan and you have a love for the game. And as my little story goes to show you, a love for the game is one that never dies.
Thanks to Little League Canada for the Little League enrollment statistics.