Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Break-Up and Make-Up with Baseball

By
Where my love for baseball began.
As you can probably tell by this blog, baseball is one of my true passions. It's something I couldn't imagine my life without. Baseball is a sport that I loved dearly as a child, and as an adult I have grown to understand and appreciate the subtleties of the game.

But things haven't quite always been this way. I'm a little ashamed to say I haven't always been a loyal fan. There's a dark part of my past when I didn't even follow the Toronto Blue Jays ... let alone baseball.

So I figured there's no better time than Valentine's Day to tell the story of my break-up and make-up with baseball.

Of course, it all started with Little League Baseball. It was (and still is) a rite of passage for many young Canadians, as baseball used to be the preeminent summer past time across the country.

Although my dreams of becoming a Major Leaguer never came to fruition, I loved playing ball as a kid. The grassroots level is where I truly discovered my passion for playing the game and it lead to my fascination with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Much like snap bracelets, Hypercolor shirts and Pogs, being a Blue Jays fan simply was the cool thing to do at the time. My parents really didn't facilitate my curiosity about the Blue Jays, but rather it was my parents' friends and their kids who nudged be towards the team.

They were the ones who took me to my very first Blue Jays game on October 3rd, 1992. The day was pretty significant because it was the game the Blue Jays clinched the AL East with a 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers.

The game ended with a cavalcade of fireworks, and at the time I had no clue the Jays clinched the division. I just assumed they celebrated every win that way.

Not surprisingly, my interest in baseball and the Blue Jays was at its peak during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, but then something came along that derailed my interest in the sport entirely: the strike.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who fell out of love with baseball. According to numbers provided by Little League Canada, enrollment in Little League Baseball dropped 11.1 percent following the 1994 MLB strike. Numbers declined from 78,827 players in 1994 to 70,027 in 1995.

Consider myself part of that 11.1 percent who failed to pick up a bat, ball or glove after 1994. To that point, I had spent 3-4 years in little league baseball and loved every minute of it. But when the time came to sign up again in 1995, there weren't even enough kids to assemble a team.

Unfortunately, that was the day when a part of my passion for baseball flickered out. It was as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. Not only could I not play baseball, I couldn't even watch it. As a young impressionable mind, there was no quicker way to kill my interest in the game than that deadly combination.

As my love for the Toronto Blue Jays dwindled, I subsequently took an interest in the NFL and the San Francisco 49'ers. The combination of Steve Young and Jerry Rice garnered my interest during the mid-90's, taking the place of my former beloved Blue Jays.

However, like most couples that are destined to be together forever ... there was a reconciliation. My make-up with baseball began in 1998. Similar to many fans that were on the outs with the sport, it was the home run chase of '98 that brought me back in.

It was a magical time in baseball; Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa single-handedly reinvigorated a game that had lost most of its lustre in the middle of the decade. The prospect of seeing McGwire or Sosa go yard at any given moment brought baseball back to the forefront.

Image courtesy of SI Vault
The steroid era of baseball did not come without consequences, but at the time it sure was fun to watch. Like most fans, I turned a blind eye to the realities of performance enhancing drugs and just lived in the moment.

Judgment day would eventually come for McGwire and Sosa, but at the time they were heralded as heroes for the game of baseball. Donning Greek God garb, Sports Illustrated deemed the sluggers as 1998 Sportsmen of the Year.

What happened in baseball during the late nineties and early 2000's may have been questionable, however it certainly brought baseball back into the fold once again. Baseball and I weren't back together again, but it was back on my radar.

For the next five or six years, the Blue Jays were always in the back of my mind, but never at the forefront. I checked in every so often when they were trying to hold onto the Wild Card or when a significant trade took place.

Then for some reason or another, I was looking for an excuse to wear my 1992 Blue Jays jersey to school (which incidentally, didn't fit me when my mom bought it for me originally in 1994, but finally did fit in 2005.)

I instrumented a "Blue Jays Day" at school that day, but I was the lone participant. Nonetheless, it re-stoked the fires of passion for baseball. I followed the Blue Jays throughout the 2005 season, not religiously, but checked in on them every so often.

It was the 2005 off-season that really got me excited about the Blue Jays once again. The club signed A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Bengie Molina, and traded to get Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay. Even though I wasn't extremely familiar with this incarnation with the Blue Jays, I recognized this spending meant Toronto wanted to win again.

Ever since that turning point in 2005, my Blue Jays fandom has been rekindled and has been growing progressively each year. It's funny to think the catalyst that helped me fall back in love with the Blue Jays was a silly "Blue Jays Day".

Looking back, I regret missing those years from 1995-2004. I missed the meteoric rise of Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, and even Roger Clemens' award-winning (albeit allegedly drug-enhanced) tenure as a Toronto Blue Jay.

There's no question the 1994 MLB strike took down a lot of casualties. In fact, I know some folks who used to be diehard baseball fans and still haven't forgiven baseball for what happened. The majority of them being Montreal Expos fans, and frankly I don't blame them for still being upset.

Luckily, my break-up and make-up with baseball has a happy ending. We are reunited once again, and after a nine year hiatus, my fondness for baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays truly came full circle.

It's the Blue Jays I have to thank for bridging the gap between my childhood and adulthood. And to think ... the catalyst for this reunion was a jersey that was too big for me as a child, but now fits me perfectly as an adult.

I guess you could say baseball symbolizes my childhood. It reminds me of a time when I had an unadulterated love for the game ... when times where simpler and when baseball overshadowed everything. Thus, baseball will always hold a special place in my heart.

Maybe that's why I gravitated back towards the sport and the team I used to love so much as a kid. Because like many of us, I was simply trying to recapture part of that magical feeling of being a child once again.

For what it's worth, it really doesn't matter how or why you're a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, or baseball in general. Maybe you have an affinity for the Blue Jays because of their sharp new uniforms. Maybe it's because your dad loved the Blue Jays, and he passed that affinity for the team on to you.

All that really matters is you're a fan and you have a love for the game. And as my little story goes to show you, a love for the game is one that never dies.

Thanks to Little League Canada for the Little League enrollment statistics.

13 comments:

  1. I followed nearing the same up and down relationship with baseball as you.

    I filled my sport's void in the late 90's and early 2000's with the Maple Leafs. (Incidentally, I haven't watched one hockey game in 3 years!)

    I would attribute my return to the game to:

    1)Taking my own child to the game and playing catch outside reminded me of how much I used to like it.
    2)The MLB has made so many great choices over the last 5-6 years that have led to it being the best it has ever been.

    Nice read... thanks.

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  2. SaugaTigers, I'm glad to hear that you came back to baseball as well. Whether it was football, hockey, or something else, I think there had to be something to fit the void. I dabbled in hockey fandom as well in the late 90's, but it just wasn't the same as a good old-fashioned baseball game.

    It's funny how picking up a baseball again really does take you back to your childhood. And now we can pass that love of the game on to a new generation of baseball and Blue Jays fans.

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  3. wow Ian its very cool, and a little weird how yourtime line mimics my own. I only really got back into baseball at university, I didn't even own a glove for the longest time. A buddy had an old glove and we would go play catch and share the one glove.

    Then the monster came back and I loved the game again, I bought MVP 2005 for my gamecube and learned about all the current celebs like Manny and Big Pappy after their world series win.

    While I was digging through my things looking for my old baseball cards I found a note saying my name and that I was 8 years old and my favorite sport was baseball and my favorite team was the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Which led me to another reason I stopped being a fan. I had a ball cap ( very filthy one that I found 10 years later) that had the original logo on it. When they switched to the big maple leaf behind I looked all over for a new one (whereever kids look for stuff, the stores their parents take them) With no luck. I did not have another Jays cap until 2006...and now I have atleast 10 lol, and will need to buy a new one for this season.

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  4. I too left because of the strike. It took a combination of spending time in Australia and being dragged to a gem of a Doc game to bring me back. I'm glad.

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  5. Albie, it's cool to hear there are many out there like us who fell off the map with baseball as a kid, but then came back for one reason or another later on in life.

    Luckily, I hung onto my glove from Little League all these years, and miraculously it still fit when I dug it back out to play some rec league softball in college.

    MK, just curious - was it the cricket influence in Australia that got you back into baseball? And do you recall which Halladay game it was?

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  6. Great story Ian. I followed the Jays pretty closely from 1985-1993. The strike coincided with starting university for me and I rarely spent time watching TV or following baseball in those years. I never really considered the strike specifically to be the reason I quit watching, as there were other things going on that took up my time, but it wasn't until I started paying attention to the 2003 and later playoffs that I got back into it. 2006 (following the big additions) was the first year I followed a full Jays season again.

    So ... does this mean JP Ricciardi deserves some credit for a Jays renaissance of sorts?

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  7. cool, so you were a bandwagon jumper who liked whatever the most popular sports most popular team/player was. how inspiring.

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  8. QJays, I guess in a roundabout way we do have J.P. Ricciardi and his frivolous spending to thank for the Blue Jays renaissance. Who ever thought we'd say that?

    Anon, please forgive my 9-year old self for liking the baseball team my best friends did.

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  9. Nice story Ian. I saw the same thing happen from a different perspective. I've been a hard-core Jays fans since I was 8 or 9 years old and when I was 11 and 12 in 92/92 EVERYONE was a Jays fan. I stuck with the team and baseball throughout the years but saw the many of my friends and fans from the glory years turn away from the Jays and the game. I remember still wearing Jays gear throughg JR high and High school, but very seldom seeing anyone else wearing it. I also played baseball from the age of nine until I was 16 and saw the numbers drop off and former teammates trade in the game for another sport or activity.

    I'm not in touch with a lot of the people I knew in 92/932anymore, but here's hoping many of them found there way back to the game and the Jays in some way like you did.

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  10. Good read, but you didn't actually have a choice, baseball will always bring you back somehow.

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  11. Dave, kudos to you for sticking with ball all these years. There was a time when Blue Jays gear was pretty scarce around these parts, but it's nice to see that it's making a resurgence once again.

    Eastbound, nope - it was destiny that we would end up back together. Just like Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski.

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  12. This seems to be a common pattern, to be into baseball as a kid, drift away from it, and come back later.

    I never did drift away, but I'm probably also more into baseball now than I ever have been. And yes, it's too bad you missed the Delgado years and Doc becoming Doc.

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  13. Anon, I really do regret missing the Delgado/Doc eras from the Blue Jays past ... although the team wasn't really a contender, their contributions to the Blue Jays were still very important.

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