Everyone loves Toronto now, at least the Toronto Blue Jays
Performance on and off the field has some Canadians shedding disdain for Big Smoke
Toronto typically gets the heel treatment amongst other Canadians for being "the centre of the universe." And while that nickname is often derisive, it's apt when it comes to baseball in this country.
The city's Blue Jays, since the loss of the Montreal Expos in 2004, are the only show in hockey country and the whole nation is watching. Having won 11 games in a row, the Jays are atop the American League East standings and will look to reach the post-season for the first time since Kim Campbell was in office. They've traded for superstar talent, surpassed the New York Yankees in the playoff race and are being touted as World Series favourites.
Just try and deflate that centre-of-the-universe arrogance now.
"I'm so happy the good old days have returned," says Toronto Coun. Norm Kelly.
Kelly, who spent time as deputy mayor under Rob Ford and who's perhaps best known today for his presence on Twitter as a voice on Toronto, sports and culture, believes his city deserves all the attention it's getting.
"This is a good baseball town," he says. "Growing up, I used to go see the Toronto Maple Leafs triple-A [baseball team] and a lot of good players have come through Toronto and I think (now) you have a sophisticated audience. They reward good baseball with the attendance that you see now."
The Jays have begun to sell out games and nearly sold out a weeknight game Wednesday with a season-high weeknight attendance of 44,597. Coun. Kelly thinks it's more than just wins that fill the seats, saying that the diversity of Jays players in a diverse city appeals to "the modern fan in cosmopolitan Toronto."
And though the cultural makeup of Toronto is not mirrored everywhere in the country, Kelly says Toronto, nevertheless makes for a fascinating spectacle.
"The Jays and Raptors have that unique status; they're not only Toronto's team, they're Canada's team," he says, "so people love to come out and watch them."
SWEEP! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GOJAYSGO?src=hash">#GOJAYSGO</a> <a href="http://t.co/8rEaSwzT0x">pic.twitter.com/8rEaSwzT0x</a>—@norm
But Toronto is not beloved country-wide. Whether it be in the sports world or for its reputation as the financial capital of Canada with its Bay Street big-shots, Toronto is not always the favourite son among other cities like Vancouver, for example. Though it's in Vancouver where perhaps the next biggest show of support is being seen outside of Ontario.
"At this point [after 22 years without playoffs], you don't worry about Toronto being 'The Big Smoke,'" says Vancouver Canadians broadcaster Rob Fai of the rivalry between big cities. "You just want to see the Blue Jays get in. I find that it is the one sport where [Vancouver natives] are willing to go off-limits. If this was the Maple Leafs or the Raptors or any of the other major-league sports, yeah there'd be a big problem."
In less than a year, AA just created a modern version of WAMCO... <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/bluejays?src=hash">#bluejays</a> Put 2015 up against 1993, and you'll find similarities.—@RobFaiNation
The Vancouver Canadians are a minor-league affiliate of the Jays in the Northwest League and have nurtured current Jays talents like Aaron Sanchez and Kevin Pillar. It was also former Canadians talent that was shipped off in some of the trades that have brought to Toronto stars like David Price and Troy Tulowitzki.
Investment in Canadian baseball
But it's the Jays' work off the field that Fai says is a big reason why Vancouver is cheering on Toronto. The Jays recently put forth a chunk of change to help finance a fully-accessible wheelchair baseball field, one that Fai says couldn't have been done without them (the Jays have similarly done this in Ottawa.)
"[Blue Jays President] Paul Beeston ended up getting three standing ovations at our winter event because everybody knew [about the Jays' donation] ," says Fai. "In January, we were talking about baseball in rainy Vancouver and that's a testament to what they've been able to do.
"What Paul Beeston has done in the last six or seven years since he's returned has really regained the trust of the west coast in the Toronto Blue Jays."
Toronto, not always the twinkle in the rest of the country's eye, has seemingly got the whole country on its side. At least on the diamond.
"They're the talk of baseball, it's not just Canada," says Fai. "You can go down to Tampa or Texas and everybody is talking Toronto right now."
Canada is all about those 1st-place <a href="https://twitter.com/BlueJays">@BlueJays</a>. <a href="http://t.co/PUHuXSPMUR">pic.twitter.com/PUHuXSPMUR</a>—@MLB