I’ve been absent from Blue Jays From Away for a few weeks. But, I’m back now and I’d like to start off with a bit of a commentary based on what I noticed while in Boston this past week. Since I was a kid, I have always been intrigued by Fenway Park. I had wanted to see it more than any other stadium. So, with some other plans in tow (to please the wife and son) we drove to Boston. As a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, this trip got me thinking. What follows is an account of the trip and musings about being a Blue Jays fan in the very passionate Red Sox home town…I also took some really awesome pictures, which I am going to try and cram in here.
Aside from HEAVY traffic on the drive down, the trek was fairly uneventful. Well, except for the wife telling me I was speeding. My response: “Relax, I am driving slower than a Mark Buehrle fastball.” That confused her enough to sigh and let it go. I thought it was hilarious!
One of my wife’s concerns was the reaction I would get being a very obvious Blue Jays fan. Every day, I wore a different Blue Jays shirt along with my ball cap. I was kind of doing it on purpose. She was worried we’d face hostility. I was testing her hypothesis. What we found was quite the opposite. On our first day, we took the train in to the downtown area. As we were ready to get off the train at South Station, a guy struck up a conversation. “Going to see the game?” “Tomorrow. We’re exploring the city today.” “Is this your first trip?” “Yup. First time to Boston.” “You’ll love Fenway! It is small. Everything is close. You’ll have a good time. Enjoy your stay.”
One conversation, one welcoming feeling. Sweet. On our way out of South Station, a guy in a business suit caught my eye, looked me up and down and simply said, “Ballsy.” I assume he meant wearing my Blue Jays swag in downtown Bean Town. Huh, maybe we would be chased with pitchforks after all.
As it turns out, everywhere we went, we were greeted with excitement. People just loved telling us about Fenway Park and their love of the Red Sox. They are so excited and proud when they talk about the Red Sox and “America’s Most Beloved BallPark”. I can only compare it to the pride a parent feels when showing off their new baby. Except, this baby is REALLY old and REALLY green. It has been my experience that the adoration the average Bostonian has for their team and stadium is in stark contrast to that of the average Torontonian. Whenever I’ve been to Toronto, it is almost like there is this other “THING” that goes on ‘underground’ called baseball and people will attend for something to do. But, the Blue Jays and baseball have not permeated the veins of Toronto’s citizens the way the Red Sox have in Boston. This got me thinking…WHY NOT? More on that in a bit.
As I said, I’ve never been to Fenway before. Walking up Brookline Ave, I had butterflies. As we passed by Landsdowne St., my son noted that this was where Melky Cabrera‘s home run damaged the car’s windshield the night before. Making our way through packed sidewalks, we turned on to Yawkey Way. Man, I’ve never seen anything like that for the Blue Jays. The entire street is selling merchandise and it was FULL of people. There was almost too much to take in. I get claustrophobic in large, tight crowds, so it made me uncomfortable. But, I had to force myself to stay and admire it for as long as I could. It was just so foreign to anything I’d experienced at a Blue Jays game.
Stepping in to the bowels of Fenway Park was something that cannot be easily described. Most of you reading this will probably have been there and know what I’m talking about. But, for those of you who don’t, I’ll try. My wife described it as walking into an old, musty building that smelled old, felt old and looked old. I describe it as walking into history. The charm of Fenway is its age; its character, the moments it has seen, the people who’ve seen those moments, the players who’ve lived those moments. Several times, in the first minutes of being there, I found myself lost in staring at the Green Monster, the Fewnway Park sign above the press boxes, the John Hancock sign. Heck, even the Coca-Cola sign had me lost in awe. Indeed, Fenway is one of the last of baseball’s historic sites. Today, baseball is played under retractable roofs and in ‘state of the art facilities’. Hopefully, Boston can hold out forever.
The game itself was nowhere near the 14-1 drubbing of the night before. But, Marcus Stroman was putting on a show (a #StroShow). He was holding the Red Sox to just one run. Yet, despite the home team losing the game, the series and, well, the season (this game came right before the liquidation sale the Red Sox went through leading up to the Trade Deadline), the crowd was hanging on every pitch, every play. These are fans who know everything that is going on at every moment.
This is a huge difference from my experiences at Rogers Centre. There, someone in the audience who is there to watch baseball is a rarity. What I’ve noticed is a lot of bored people (what did you think you were coming to see?), a lot of people on their phones (you paid how much for your ticket? And, you’re watching your Twitter feed instead?) or people who just go to drink and party (you paid how much for your ticket, again? And your beer?). There was none of that at Fenway.
Yes, beer was flowing, but it was not the focus. The game was. This is a fan base who knows its players in and out. This is a fan base who erupts when David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia are announced. And, I mean ERUPTS. I cannot say the same for the Blue Jays fan base. Again, the question comes up: WHY NOT?!
Why do baseball fans get a completely different experience when going to Rogers Centre? The experience is, for lack of a better word, colder. Why? Firstly, history. The Blue Jays do not have the history the Red Sox do. That can be forgiven. The Boston Red Sox have a 114 year history. The Blue Jays have 38. So, in fairness, the Red Sox have had over a century to become such a part of their city’s culture. I cannot fault the Blue Jays for that. But, are we just supposed to wait 70 more years for the Blue Jays to become a comparable experience?!
I’m not letting them off the hook that easily. There is something that I have noticed that the Blue Jays CAN be blamed for. Perhaps, the fan base does not feel so attached to its team because they do not feel the same attachment from their ownership. It may be hard for a lot of people to be passionate about a team when ownership is not passionate about running it. The Blue Jays are run like a business. Yes, all other teams are to some extent also. But, what I am talking about is running a team like a business that could go under at any moment.
The caution with which this team operates is actually numbing. Ownership is reluctant to put the kind of heart and soul into this team that it so desperately needs. How can fans fall in love with a team that will go along with status quo and never have blood sweat and tears put in to it? If fans have learned anything over the last year or so, it is that ownership will only go so far. Yet, Red Sox fans see a product that has accepted nothing but the best.
For years, my Red Sox fan friends call my negativity toward their team jealousy. Maybe they are right. I am jealous. I am jealous that Red Sox fans get such an enjoyable experience win or lose. I am jealous that I have to drive so darn far to experience true baseball passion. My Red Sox jealousy does not come from standings or even on field performance, especially this season. No, my jealousy comes from my being a fan who shows more passion than the team he supports. Maybe one day, Blue Jays fans will be able to have a “Fenway Experience” in their home stadium.
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