Coming into this season the Toronto Blue Jays were picked by most analysts to, at best, be a surprise wild card contender. Many fans, tired of waiting, impatiently sat through the off-season waiting for the one big missing piece to get signed, and were frustrated as the Jays held strong with what they have.
Then the Jays went and had their most successful spring training of all time, winning a franchise record 24 wins. Suddenly some analysts are changing their stories, and the Jays are everyone’s favorite underdog, and the Blue Jays fan base exploded with optimism.
Even Toronto’s hallowed Maple Leafs were victims of Blue Jays fever as a “Let’s Go Blue Jays” chant echoed throughout the ACC during an end of season home game, and it was clear that there was a feeling of excitement and anticipation rising in the city as baseball season drew near. However, as exciting as that anticipation was, there comes a downside when expectations get so high, and that’s become very evident after the Jays first 9 games of the year.
Every pitch, every strikeout, and every misplay seems to be under more criticism and harsher judgment than ever before. Players who aren’t performing at mid-season level right away are subject to jeers and a questioning of their ability. If Jose Bautista doesn’t hit a home run in every at bat, he’s in a slump. If Eric Thames doesn’t run out an arching line drive to the corner, Travis Snider should replace him. If Sergio Santos doesn’t shutdown the ninth of every game, the season is lost. The quick judgments didn’t start because of a successful spring however. They started a lot earlier.
Every fan of baseball generally started out as a kid who played baseball. And every boy who played baseball, had dreams of playing in the big leagues, under the lights, in Game 7 of the World Series. Eventually, most of us have to deal with the fact that we won’t be drafted, and we won’t be playing in the majors.
For most it’s easy to accept. Some stop playing sports when they go to college, or switch to a different sport. For some, they realize they just aren’t that great. For others, it’s harder, sometimes it’s an injury, and sometimes it’s circumstance. Whatever the reason, eventually players become fans and they transfer that passion they had for playing the game, into players playing the game.
Teams become their teams, and fans identify with players. They choose their favorites and buy jerseys, attend games and cheer, and live their dreams vicariously through others. Every boy of every sport has these dreams, and when the Blue Jays went on a tear in Spring Training, they didn’t just draw all the baseball fans back in, they added many other fans as well, ones who yearned for a championship season, and saw an opportunity to be apart of one with the Jays.
With Spring Training, fans of teams like the Maple Leafs or Argonauts started to see that the Jays aren’t the team they once were, but were now a team of the future, on the cusp of something great, and having lived through seasons of disappointment with the Leafs or Argos, longed for something to be excited about and the Blue Jays were an easy fix. However, these fans haven’t learned the endurance that a 162 game season requires. They aren’t aware of the roller-coaster ride every series brings, and don’t seem to understand that every at-bat, isn’t THE at-bat. In short, they are missing the patience every baseball fan needs.
While long-time baseball fans are able to calmly see Jose Bautista go to the plate and strikeout in his last plate appearance of a home game, many of these new fans only see the disappointment, defeat, and failure they thought they left behind. They immediately associated all of those negative feelings and experiences brought on by other teams’ disappointments to the Jays, and brought all the resentment and anger with them.
It’s everywhere. Go to major internet message boards, or listen to JaysTalk after a game, or talk to a guy wearing a Jays hat and a Leafs sweater, and you will see where I am coming from. Negativity is more prevalent now than ever before, and while, it can be frustrating, it’s temporary. Expectations of a successful season brings out people who crave that success, and regardless of the fact that the Blue Jays are currently first in their division with a 5-4 record (at the time of writing this article), many are unhappy.
They expected the Jays to be 9-0 or 8-1 and feel that there will be more of the same, but baseball is a battle of attrition.While many of the more negative fans will move on to something else, most will figure things out and gain the patience so many other baseball fans already have, and the Blue Jays community will again begin to grow and swell.
In short, the downside of all of these high expectations is the immediate negative so much added attention brings with it. But excitement will outlast negativity, and the passion so many of us bring to the Blue Jays will rub off on a lot of the “new” fans. They will dig in, and the support for the Jays will slowly grow, and if we have to endure a bit of negativity, it’s not a hard trade off.
The Jays don’t have to win the World Series this year, but continuing in this direction, they soon will, and when they do, they will have a new generation of fans doing it with them. Fans that are wiser and more patient than a quick climb to the top will bring, and those are the fans that will continue to support this team, no matter what the record is.