Saturday October 5, 1985 was one of the greatest days in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise. Doyle Alexander threw a complete game 5-hitter; and Ernie Whitt, Willie Upshaw, and Lloyd Moseby homered. The Blue Jays beat the Yankees 5-1 at Exhibition Stadium to clinch the AL East for the first time.
I was six years old.
My memories of that day are virtually non-existent, but I do have a hazy recollection of George Bell sinking to his knees, high-fiving a charging Tony Fernandez, while the stands emptied and fans charged the field.
Over the next eight years, as I grew up and got older, the Jays provided a number of lasting memories. I remember Tom Henke striking out Larry Sheets on September 30, 1989 to clinch the East for the second time. I remember December 5, 1990 when I heard the news that my two favourite players had been traded to San Diego for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. I remember October 2, 1991 when the Jays walked off the Angels to win the East again. And of course, we all remember the ’92 and ’93 World Series wins.
But when Joe Carter hit his famous winner off of Mitch Williams I was still just a kid, 14-years old and watching the game with my best friend and my parents, probably drinking Kool-Aid and eating Doritos. I wasn’t at a bar. I wasn’t downtown Toronto. I didn’t hit up Yonge street and party for hours. I wasn’t even old enough to have a celebratory champagne or a beer.
I wasn’t concerned though. The 1994 team had most of the core players returning, and from ’83-’93 the Blue Jays were the best team in baseball. They captured five division titles, two World Series, and were an astounding 225 games over .500. The good times were bound to keep rolling, and with me reaching highschool and then university I would be right along for the ride.
Of course, that isn’t what happened. When I hit my real formative years from 16-20, the Blue Jays were reduced to an afterthought, sometimes fielding winning teams but never in contention. For over 20 years I watched as other cities celebrated the end of playoff droughts and paraded World Series trophies. New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and St. Louis all won championships. Teams that had been terrible for so long like Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay all qualified for postseason baseball. And there were our Jays, happily bumbling along on the outside of relevance.
Sure there were exciting times, and franchise re-boots that brought hope. We had the Roger Clemens era, the Roy Halladay era, the A.J. Burnett/B.J. Ryan era, and then the Jose Reyes era. Each of them renewed thoughts of playoff baseball, both in the city, and in myself. Each of them failed.
But now, finally, after one of the most incredible second halves in recent memory, the Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of clinching the AL East. After the Yankees lost to Boston again last night, Toronto’s magic number is 1. With a doubleheader scheduled for today in Baltimore, surely the end is here. Surely it will happen today.
I’ve been asked a few times by people in the last few weeks how I am going to react when it happens. After all, I’ve been a fan, a season pass holder, and now a blogger through so many hard and lean years. I’ve invested so much of myself into this team.
The truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t celebrate or get excited on Saturday when the club officially clinched a Wild Card birth, mainly because I don’t truly consider the one game play-in a true postseason spot. Sure it was nice to see, but the division has always been the carrot on the stick. In July they were dead and buried, in August they took off, and in September they dodged several Yankee bullets to stay ahead. Now the end is near and the title is inevitable, and I am a mixture of exhilaration, joy, and nervousness.
This is a new team, and a great team, but it’s hard not to think about the players who devoted themselves to this city in the past and never got over the hump. I think about Vernon Wells, Carlos Delgado, and Roy Halladay. I think about Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Lyle Overbay, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, and even guys who were here before them like Shawn Green, and Shannon Stewart. All of those guys spent years and years trying to break the playoff drought and couldn’t do it.
But most of all, as pathetic and eye-rolling as it might sound, I’ll probably think of myself as that 6-year old kid jumping up and down when they won for the first time. Then I’ll see guys like Stroman and Sanchez, letting out their inner 6-year old boy and jumping around like crazy, basking in the joy of the moment.
And then I’ll probably do the same.