Blue Jays fans at their worst for biggest games
Beer can toss at Baltimore player in wild-card game the latest example of boorish behaviour
Toronto sports fans are once again in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
The latest bout of fan ugliness came in the seventh inning of Tuesday night's wild-card win over the Orioles.
As Baltimore left-fielder Hyun Soo Kim camped under a routine fly ball near the wall, he had to contend with a beer can hurled from the seats behind him. The can came right through his field of vision, but he still managed to make the catch.
In the catalogue of boorish fan behaviour, this crossed the line. You can't interfere with a player during live game action.
Justine Gubar, the author of a book called Fanaticus that documents the long history of bad behaviour at sporting events, says instances like this one are especially rare.
"If you are a sports fan, presumably you are there to see the game play out. To interrupt the action like that, you are sort of biting the hand that feeds you," she says. "You are ruining play. It's totally invading the personal space of players and it's invading game play."
The Orioles were rightly livid.
"That was about as pathetic as it gets between the lines," centre-fielder Adam Jones told reporters after the game. "I hope they find the guy, and I hope they press charges."
Beer cans, racial slurs hurled
Toronto police say they're searching for the culprit, who many have characterized as one bad apple among an otherwise passionate but well-behaved crowd.
It would be great if that were true. Unfortunately, it's not just one idiot.
There were again numerous fights at last night's game (I witnessed two from my seat along the first-base line) and a beer can may not have been the only thing hurled from the crowd. There were reports of racial slurs lobbed at Orioles outfielders Jones, an African-American, and Kim, who hails from South Korea.
CBC Sports reporter Scott Regehr was at the game and says Orioles first-base coach Wayne Kirby, a heavyset black man, got a rough ride from four 20-somethings decked out in Blue Jays garb sitting near him.
"They were yelling at him to go get some more fried chicken," Regehr says.
These incidents are part of a troubling pattern at Blue Jays games when the attendance spikes, as it does for home openers and playoff games. In the deciding game of last year's post-season series against Texas, fans littered the field with debris after a controversial call, causing a lengthy delay. Similar incidents have occurred at home openers, which are typically played before sellout crowds.
And they will continue unless things change. Or until a player or fan gets seriously hurt.
"There's no place in baseball for that,'' Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Tuesday night. "It really hurts the reputation of all of our fans. Hopefully, we have no problems in the next series. Enough already. Let us handle things on the field.''
Statement from the Toronto Blue Jays. <a href="https://t.co/Ux7xdI89H6">pic.twitter.com/Ux7xdI89H6</a>—@BlueJays
Several factors appear to be contributing to the bad behaviour.
With Jays tickets relatively affordable compared to those for Leafs and Raptors games, the Rogers Centre seems to attract a younger crowd. And it's a crowd looking to have a good time. For many, the game appears to be only a backdrop to party.
In a province obsessed with liquor regulation, the Rogers Centre sometimes resembles a free-for-all. If anybody was actually cut off Tuesday night, I didn't see it. It seemed everywhere you looked, somebody was double-fisting a pair of tall cans.
Beyond carding people, is anybody actually monitoring beer sales? Yes, you can only buy two at a time, but in my section alone, at least a dozen clearly intoxicated people continued to return to their seats with fresh rounds.
Who knows how many cans of beer the team sold at prices ranging from $10.50 to $14? A whole lot, as the long lines for the men's bathrooms would suggest.
By the seventh inning, the same uncomfortable edge felt during last year's playoffs had set in. For the most part, stadium staff and ushers appeared overwhelmed and unable to contain unruly behaviour. After last year's incident-filled playoffs, there hasn't been a noticeable increase in security or police personnel to deal with combative fans.
Regehr says the same quartet that was going after Kirby almost came to blows with another group nearby. Ushers came to speak to both groups but nobody was ejected and the tension remained.
"Watching this great game became secondary," he says. "People were concerned about their safety and whether this fight was going erupt."
According the team's website, fans can expect to enjoy "their Rogers Centre experience free from foul/abusive language or obscene gestures." It also promises that "intervention with an impaired or intoxicated guest will be handled in a prompt and safe manner."
Nice words. But simply not true in 2016. Ask anybody who was there Tuesday night.
While other teams have successfully moved to mitigate and isolate bad fan behaviour, things in Toronto seem to be getting worse. Impotent staff, combined with lax and inadequate security resources, make Rogers Centre an uncomfortable place to be.
Especially for the biggest, most important games.