Archive for September, 2015

The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays

Let’s have something positive for a change.

If you venture into downtown Toronto, at some point you’ll come across a building which has officially been known as the Rogers Centre since 2005, but will always be known as the SkyDome by everyone old enough to remember that name.

It is a concrete monstrosity. A soulless stadium void of any atmosphere.

Or at least, that’s how I’ve known it for my whole life. But that’s not how it used to be. And that’s not how it is anymore.

Let me take you back in time for a moment.

June 5th, 1989. 10 days ago, the Calgary Flames defeated the Montreal Canadiens to win their first (and only) Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the Blue Jays are playing their first game at the state-of-the-art SkyDome. And what a stadium it is. It’s got a hotel inside. It’s got a restaurant overlooking the field. It’s got the world’s largest video screen. And coolest of all, it’s got a retractable roof. Living in 2015 as we do, that may not seem like a big deal – everything from Wembley Stadium to BC Place has one now – but this was the first of its kind in the world. For baseball, that meant that you would never have a game cancelled due to rain, and that was something unique in 1989.

But more importantly, the place was electric. 

Over the first four seasons at the SkyDome, the place was filled to its capacity of 48,000 people for just about every home game. The Blue Jays were a force to be reckoned with at the time, winning two championships in a row in 1992 and 1993. People just couldn’t get enough.

I can’t remember 1993. I’ve seen the pictures and videos, and I’ve heard the stories. But I can’t remember any of it. The concept of the SkyDome as a place bursting with energy is foreign to me.

What happened between 1993 and my first trip to the SkyDome in 1996 to suck the soul out of the place?

Two things really.

First, the Maple Leafs emerged from their decade-long slumber to become a competitive force in hockey once again. Make no mistake – Toronto is a hockey city, and when the Leafs are good, they are all that matters. The Raptors and Blue Jays may be allowed to rent the spotlight occasionally when the Leafs are languishing at the bottom of the standings, but once the Leafs return to respectability the Raptors and Jays will inevitably return to the shadows from whence they came.

Second, and more importantly, baseball’s players union went on strike in 1994, forcing the cancellation the final third of the season. And even though play resumed as normal in 1995, the fans felt betrayed. Many just never came back.

In 1995, the SkyDome hosted fewer total fans than it had in 1994 – despite the fact that a third of the games had been cancelled in 1994. In 1996, fewer fans showed up than in 1995, and the numbers continued to trend downward through the late 90s. Where once the stadium had hosted 48,000 fans on a daily basis, by the turn of the century it was a struggle to get 20,000 to show up.

This was the SkyDome I grew up with. A massive building, no longer remarkable for its massive video screen or its retractable roof, but instead remarkable for its vast numbers of empty seats. With the roof closed, it often resembled a cavern.

I’ve been going to Jays games at the SkyDome for 20 years now, and not much has changed in that time. Sure, the turf has been upgraded, and the video boards have been updated, but the building has always remained a quiet, half-empty cavern.

Perhaps most importantly, the banners hanging from the rafters have remained unchanged since 1993. They look like this:


Other than the addition of two banners honouring the great #12 Jarome Iginla Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick, that set of banners has stood unmoving and unaltered since 1993.

See, unlike hockey where teams tend to ascend and decline on a cyclical basis, in baseball the good teams tend to stay good, the bad teams tend to stay bad, and the average teams tend to stay average. The Blue Jays fall into the latter category. In a 162 game season, the Jays have been a safe bet for somewhere between 75 and 85 wins just about every year for the last 20 years. Never bad enough to be unbearable to watch, but never good enough to compete with the high powered (and obscenely rich) New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

There have been some teases over the years. Some good starts, some short runs of good play. But by the time September rolls around, the Blue Jays have always found themselves merely playing for pride rather than for any hope at a championship.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve often looked at all the empty seats and wondered what it would be like if the place was jam-packed like in the early 90s.

It felt a lot like being in the Roman Coliseum. Despite the sad emptiness around me, I could imagine that in the distant past this place had been home to something truly great. But those days, I thought, were gone forever. The fans had left 20 years ago, and they would never come back.
And then this past July happened.

There the Jays stood. 50 wins and 51 losses. Typical.

And then their General Manager decided to make a deal with the devil.

Over the course of that week, he traded away a sizable portion of the team’s young players for two star players as well as some other players who could help the team win in the present.

In essence, he sold the team’s future – damning the squad to hell in approximately two years – in order to give the present incarnation of the team a significant but temporary boost .

In doing so, the man effectively gambled his own job. If this moved failed, he would find himself unemployed by the end of October.

This sort of thing has been done before – albeit to lesser degrees – over the past 20 years, and each time it has ended in a spectacular failure.

And so I expected that the same would happen this time, and wondered who the new manager would be once this one received his walking papers.

Instead, the team proceeded to win 14 of its next 15 games, and just kept on rolling though August and into September. Since July 28th, the team has won 42 games and lost only 14. And the mighty Yankees, who the Jays have never finished ahead of since 1993, have been firmly left in the rear view mirror. Barring a colossal meltdown, a new banner with the year 2015 on it will soon join those remnants of the 80s and 90s.

And the fans.

The fans have come back.

Every night as I watch on TV, I take note of the crowd. And every seat is full. 48,000 people, just like it used to be.

It’s a beautiful thing. It’s as if all of those pictures and videos that I’ve seen over the years are coming alive before my eyes.

In the back of my mind I am fully aware that this is a temporary phenomenon. As with any deal with the devil, the devil will get his due in the end. By 2017 this team will be a wreck, and the fans will no doubt retreat once more.

But I won’t allow myself to think about that. I’m just going to enjoy this as much as I can while it lasts.
And that brings me to my plans for next week.

See, every year since I can remember, I’ve always told my mother that we’d be going to see a Jays game in October. And every year, those plans have been dashed because the Jays have failed to make the playoffs and their season has ended in September.

Until very recently, I assumed that this year would be the same. The Jays would break my heart because they’ve always broken my heart in the past. It seemed too good to be true.

But with tonight’s Yankee defeat, it’s all but confirmed: The Blue Jays will be playing their first playoff game since 1993 on October 8th.

And my mother and I will be two of the 48,000 people in the revived and revitalized SkyDome, yelling our lungs out like people used to when I was a toddler.

Why Me?

The most noble and selfless people out there have one thing is common: They can go through hell, and you’ll never hear them ask “Why me?”

But I am not particularly noble or selfless. Shit starts getting tough on my end and I start wondering “why me?” almost immediately.

Of course, there are far greater tragedies in the world than being unable to find a job. I’m not asking “why me?” in the cosmic sense of the phrase. I’m not quite self-centred or dramatic enough to wonder why all the bad things in life are happening to me, and me alone.

On a smaller scale however, I can’t help but wonder “why me?”

Why, when 75% of my classmates have jobs right now, am I one of the 25% who do not?

I think it’s an appropriate question to ask.

It’s not one that I’m going to answer here though. Even if I wanted to, I just don’t have the answer.

It’s just frustrating as hell to hear other people talk about how relaxed they are this year compared with last year – especially when I know that I rank well ahead of some of them as far as academics go. I can’t describe just how infuriating this is, and rejection after rejection has left me with no confidence that this will be over anytime soon.

Not to sound too self-important, but I think getting a job was/is more important to me than it was/is to a lot of other people. For most people, a job is just a job. The beginning of a lengthy and fulfilling career perhaps, but nothing more than that.

For me, owing to the somewhat unique circumstances that I find myself in, where I work is going to have a powerful impact on just about every aspect of my life. It’s not “just a career” for me, it’s everything.

That really sums up why I’m so frustrated. It just feels like my whole life is in limbo, pending the outcome of this whole process.

Why me?

Back To Reality

It’s nice to escape every now and then.

Sometimes I escape for a few hours by diving into a video game, and sometimes I escape for a few weeks by visiting and subsequently being visited by two of my favourite people in the world.

But now I’m firmly back in reality, and I’m not sure I like it here.

For four weeks there I could kind of pretend that what happened in August never happened, or that it wasn’t significant. But of course, it did happen, and it was significant.

I could have been relaxed right now. I could have been secure in the knowledge that I will be working in downtown Toronto next year and making X amount of dollars. Somewhere out there, there was a combination of words and behaviours and facial expressions that would have landed me one of those eight jobs, but I just couldn’t piece them together. Whatever happens now, I’ve missed out on the opportunity to work for some employers that I really wanted to work for, and my life going forward is going to be significantly different from what it would have been if I’d landed one of those jobs.

Now that I’ve had a few days to ruminate on it, I’m angry. Mostly at myself, because I know that even though I did my best, I made some stupid mistakes throughout the course of those two days that I wish I could take back.

I’m also angry at (or perhaps just jealous of) my classmates – the ones who secured positions because of nepotism or luck or just being better at interviews than I am. They’re relaxed, they’re calm, and they’re pleased with themselves. I’m none of those three, and to be frank I feel that I’m more deserving than some of them.

It didn’t help that while I was away I lost an allegedly random ballot for my placement and ended up with a less desirable one. Nor that I didn’t get one of the 11 TA positions that I had applied for when I felt that I was a lock for one. I sent an email politely asking “what the fuck?”, but (unsurprisingly) I never received a response.

Honestly, I just want a win. This past Call Day aside, I’m on such a losing streak right now that I’ve stopped keeping track of all the disappointments.