There’s a whole lot of something to be said about nothing in these days we keep on spinning into year after year. And with the way that things have been going lately in this conflicted world — a world that struggles with what seems to be so simple and as right as a piece of apple pie after Sunday dinner — it’s probably important to just take a little time to remember the times when.
We all find peace in different ways, from casting the summer line into the lake, golfing with your pals, taking the good car for a spin, binge watching Netflix — or, of course, watching the beautiful game of baseball and our Toronto Blue Jays.
At least, we try to make it peaceful. Many of us Blue Jays fans do like to disagree with each other within the many threads that allow us all to post our baseball thoughts online. We can all go to Fangraphs and search out the sabermetrics for different players to use as evidence to back up our thoughts and make our opinions stronger than someone else’s — hopefully, though not always, all in good fun. But as much as we may disagree with one another as we sit behind screens hacking the Blue Jays’ ‘should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve-s’, there’s one thing that we all hold close to the ol’ baseball heart, and that’s our memories. Especially our first memories. And it’s these memories that we collect throughout these long days that hold more value than any paycheque ever will.
My first real Blue Jays memory was when my old man took me to Exhibition Stadium in the spring of ‘87 to see Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember Jimmy Key was the starting pitcher for the Birds and Rance Mulliniks’ bat lead the Jays to a 4-2 win that April night. It was the first time I ever saw this great sport played live and I will never forget it. I do, however, wish that my old man would’ve bought me some damn popcorn and a hotdog, but he didn’t and I got stuck eating the snacks that he brought — goddamn small packs of Sun-Maid Raisins. I’ve hated raisins ever since. And the lady in the stupid red hat on the box too!
And the first time I realized that baseball was the greatest sport on the planet was when my stepdad, who is a big [Cleveland baseball franchise] fan, took me to Cleveland in the summer of ’92 to watch his [Cleveland baseball franchise] — and, of course, the Blue Jays. Municipal Stadium was fucking fantastic, with these big giant pillars that, if you got a seat behind them, you wouldn’t be able to see shit. But you would never have to worry about that because these were the Cleveland years that inspired Major League, so the ballpark was always empty, but the drum still beat in center field.
It was in that stadium where I realized that I loved every sight and sound that came with the game of baseball. It brought a kind of peace and calm to me. I will never forget this older large man walking up and down the aisles every night bellowing ‘BEER HERE!’ It was these hours I spent alongside my stepdad at Municipal Stadium that sparked a love for the game that will burn in me until it’s my turn to join the good dirt.
* * *
We all have our own memories of some sort once you push through the haze, so what about you Cam, can you remember when?
My first Jays memory is a difficult one. I had been aware that the Jays existed for pretty much my entire life, I just didn’t pay attention to them at all. The first Jays game I can really remember watching was at a car dealership in 2004. They had just been swept by the Tigers to open the season, which was hilarious, because they said on the broadcast that Detroit had only won something like 37 games the year before.
I’m not sure what the reason was, but I started watching baseball that year. I remember Orlando Hudson, Carlos Delgado, and Roy Halladay very well, but almost nobody else. 2006 was definitely the first season that I actually actively followed the team, like checking their scores online or in the newspaper, and actively going out of my way to watch when Halladay started. That was also the year I had my first baseball video game, which was MVP baseball for Gamecube. Still, to this day, it’s the greatest baseball game ever made.
(Gonna have to cut you off real quickly here Mr. Lewis, but you’re sadly mistaken. The greatest baseball game ever made was RBI Baseball for NES. Okay, continue)
Having a game like that with a fucking amazing soundtrack with a really good dynasty mode makes it so much easier to just get lost for hours playing as a franchise and learning the league and its players.
But I think the first really good, vivid memory I have about the team was when Jesse Litsch had that excellent first career start in 2007. He went something like eight-and-two thirds and only surrendered four or five hits but didn’t strike anybody out. I think it was that night I really decided baseball was something worth watching and following.
2007, 2008, and 2009 are all a big, jumbled mess, but that’s definitely when, for some reason, I really fell in love with the team.
Random stuff like Roy Halladay throwing a great game and Jason Frasor blowing it and Roy flipping out in the bench, the seven-run comeback against the Rays off of Shawn Camp, signing that same Shawn Camp a year later, Joe Inglett hitting a loop single that got away from the usually sure-handed Ichiro to win a game, and following scores on ESPN2’s ticker while on vacation in the States only to see some random fucker named Rzepczynski picked up the W all stick out for me.
The team was never, ever close to playoff spot during my childhood. In 2010 Bautista had the legendary season, but the team was trash. They fell flat in 2013 after the insane offseason, and in 2014, the collapsed after that great month of May. Then 2015 happened and it was all worth it. Following the team was hard because they were so hopeless for so long, but then AA acquired Tulo and David Price and this world-beating club that could only win if they scored 10 runs finally came together.
It’s funny listening to people complain about this Jays team now, second-guessing the Tulo trades, this and that when, for literally my entire life the team was like the San Diego Padres. It’s difficult to go back and explain why I actually started loving this team, but there’s something about it being on every single day for the entire summer that makes it so good even when it’s so bad.
Proper conclusion that every Birds fan needs to read, as it’s always so good even when it’s so bad. And, yeah, I wouldn’t fuckin’ undo anything for the ride that led this team to the greatest inning ever played in baseball history, which, of course, concluded with the fucking bat flip of bronze-statue-that-shit-now awesomeness.
* * *
So what the hell do you think Stoeten, do you have some kind of something to share?
First of all, goddamn Cam is young — a fact that never that will apparently never cease to amaze and trouble me. But OK, sure, let’s get weird.
Thing is, I must admit that I don’t really know what my first memory of the game is, or when it all crystallized. I wish I had a moment like I do with soccer. That’s a sport I came to quite late, with just a passing interest in the major tournaments, and a curiosity about the men in orange representing my dad’s native Holland. It all came together for me at France 98, when a star-studded Dutch team went to the semifinals, losing in a penalty shootout to Brazil. The match that sent them there was what really did it: a tense 2-1 victory over Argentina won in the closing minutes on Dennis Bergkamp’s wondergoal. For a moment like that to happen just at the point I was genuinely getting invested in the sport? It was magic. I was hooked. I imagine it was a lot like the bat flip must have been for a lot of nascent Jays fans in 2015.
Baseball, though? It was just always there. Hockey in the winter, baseball in the summer. I don’t remember ever feeling like there was a lot of choice in the matter — it just was.
As for the Blue Jays, it’s funny that Ryan remembers a Jays-Red Sox series at the Ex in ’87, because I definitely saw the Sox there around the same time. Which game and who pitched are all lost to me — as are most of my early baseball memories. George Bell’s iconic pose after catching the fly ball that clinched the AL East title for the Jays in ’85 is seared into my brain, but I’d be lying if I said I could remember it specifically. The crushing defeat and the dread of ’87 are definitely there, but when I close my eyes I can’t see any of it except the moments I’ve seen more recently in replays.
The first really specific memory I have of MLB baseball was watching the national anthems at the start of Game Six of the 1986 World Series before being sent to bed. That one is all there: the TV set in my parents’ bedroom, sitting at the foot of the bed, the old dresser. It’s like a photograph. Just not a particularly exciting one.
The stupid Red Sox factor into a bunch of my earliest memories of the sport, actually. My dad had gone on a business trip to Boston during their run to the pennant in ’86 and brought me some kind of a shirt. I had an affinity for shitty second baseman Marty Barrett, for some reason. The Red Sox were far less hateable back then, don’t forget. I didn’t become a fan of theirs, obviously, but all this did impress on me that this stuff was important. And whether it was that willingness to look in on other teams and their success, or just because I was probably a fucking contrarian even back then, I tended to be a fan of not just the Jays — or sometimes not even the Jays — but of anybody and everybody around the league. Mark Langston and Jimmy Key because they were lefties, like I was. Will Clark, presumably because he was a fairly unremarkable white guy. Rickey Henderson because he was Rickey, and because like me, a lefty thrower who bats only from the right side. Dave Winfield because we shared a birthday. Ken Griffey Jr. because he was Ken Griffey Jr. Anybody from the Expos, because I would watch The Expos This Week (or whatever that TSN show was called) as religiously as I did the Jays one — though lot of this ended up flowing through the prism of RBI Baseball, and baseball cards and sticker books, I think.
By the time the of the World Series years, my fandom was almost entirely about the Jays, but I resisted for a long while at first. And then the Jays got bad, and the strike happened, and high school happened, and baseball faded into the background. I remember being excited about the Clemens signing, and pissed at the Woody Williams trade, always going to home openers, but it wasn’t what it was before.
There was a moment that kicked off my second love affair with the sport and the team, though, which I remember quite clearly. Or, at least, parts of it I can. It was May 23rd, 2001. Parkes and I skipped our classes at York to go watch the Champions League final (back then they were held on Wednesdays for some reason — Bayern beat Valencia on penalties). After getting right sauced watching the match at the Duke of Gloucester, we grabbed a two-four of Carlsberg and took it back to our apartment. Eventually it dawned on one of us that the White Sox were in town, and David Wells was starting for them, making his return to Toronto for the first time after the fucking Mike Sirotka trade, and after shitting on Jays fans in his book. Shitfaced, we decided to go grab walk-up tickets so that we could yell at Wells.
Baseball by then was far enough off our radar that we hadn’t really thought about this until that moment — as especially illustrated by the fact that we’d bought bottles of beer, which you couldn’t take past the Rogers Centre security… or so one would think!
We bagged up a bunch of bottles for the subway trip, walked up to the stadium, and stopped at a fountain as close as possible to our gate, so as to minimize the walk. There we stashed as many bottles as we each could up our sleeves, in our socks (pants were baggier back then!), and wherever else we could manage. We hid the ones we couldn’t fit in the fountain so we could come pick them up later, and proceeded to walk, cautiously, and stiffly, like a couple of tin men, up to the gate and somehow got through!
Instead of sitting at our seats in the 500s, we took a spot behind the Jays’ bullpen, and commenced being complete and utter dicks — somehow not being spotted for having, like, 14 glass bottles sitting at our feet. Wells had his ass handed to him, and Parkes got into chirping right fielder Jeff Liefer — who ended up moving to left field for no particularly good reason (Parkes will tell you to this day that he was the reason). It… uh… gets a bit blurry after that. But it was precisely around this time that I remember coming to the realization that the price of a Jays ticket was about the same as going and seeing some godawful movie at the theatre — something I was doing a lot of at the time — and that the ballpark was a whole lot boozier, and just straight up more fun.
Fifteen years later, and I can assure you I was right.
* * *
Alright, now that we’ve all shared, what about you all reading this? Assuming you made it this far. What’s your first Blue Jays memory, or the thing that cemented your love for the sport and the team? Share your stories in the comments!