Unless you’re a mature student, I doubt you remember much about the last time the Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs.
I was just under a year old when the Jays won their second of back-to-back World Series in 1993, and the only real exposure I had towards any sort of championship aspirations after that point was a hand-me-down t-shirt from that championship team.
After that year, things have been quiet — so quiet that the Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their last championship, a 20-year playoff drought that represented the longest streak of futility in any of the four major North American sports.
That all changed this past Sunday, as the Jays clinched a playoff spot, and ended their drought. It felt special for a number of reasons.
First off, it was the first time since I started following this team that they actually felt relevant. Baseball is called “America’s pass time” for a reason, and being the only team not from the good ol’ US of A sometimes meant the Jays were overlooked. Precious few games were covered by ESPN or Fox, and it just seemed like the Jays were an afterthought most of the time.
Every other team in the American League East had their run at glory during the Jays drought. The Yankees were in too many postseasons to count, the Red Sox finally ended the curse of the bambino, the Orioles made waves with some young stars and a veteran, no-nonsense manager. Hell, even the Tampa Bay Rays have made the playoffs a few times, including a trip to the 2008 World Series. Every team but the Jays had their due, their shot at ultimate glory, all while the Jays watched from their couches at home, thinking about how next year would maybe be different.
Inevitably, each year wasn’t different, and fans would have to watch Jays players “play for pride” come late September. It was torturous as a fan to watch great players like Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, Jose Bautista, and others have nothing to play for during the last month of the season.
This season was different. But it didn’t look that way at the trade deadline. Up until that point, the Jays were hovering around .500, and really only in the race by virtue of the fact that no other team had separated themselves from the pack. A familiar refrain rang from Jays management, one that essentially said: “We’ll try our best to get better.” This was not news to fans, who had heard this many times before. Their pleas to spend big had often fallen on deaf ears, with the Jays often standing pat, and losing out on available talent at the deadline for one reason or another. Over the course of several days this year, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos changed all that. Acquiring both superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies, and left-handed ace David Price from the Detroit Tigers. The message was clear: this year, the Jays weren’t going to be content with going home at the end of September.
Their play reached another level, as they vaulted over the Twins into a wildcard spot, and then over the Yankees for the division lead. As it stands now, they are almost a lock to win the AL East, and are within striking distance of the AL’s best record, and finishing with that would give them home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
You should care because the Jays are unique since the departure of the Montreal Expos to Washington, they’re the only MLB team north of the border. They have a chance to finish as one of the best offences in the history of the game, and feature some of the most exciting and interesting players in the game today. They’ve brought a new identity to a city that has been sorely lacking a sporting team to root for in recent years, aside from a couple of shallow playoff runs by the Leafs and Raptors in the past few years.
Most of all, the Jays are yours. They’re Canadian, they represent all of you, from the dustiest Saskatchewan farming town, to the coldest ice shelf in Nunavut — the Jays are playing for all of that. Every other MLB team can only go so far before they run into another hostile fan base. Some even have to coexist in the same city, but the Jays have an entire nation to themselves, they have a fan base that’s 35 million strong.
Let’s hope Bautista, Josh “MVP” Donaldson, David “Cy Young” Price and company can make Canada proud come October. The way they’re going right now, the sky is the limit.