The Road to Here

Sunday, December 01 2002 @ 02:11 AM EST

Contributed by: Jordan

Inspired by Geoff's and Kent's recollections of how they came to be baseball and Blue Jays fans, I thought I'd start a separate thread where visitors could chime in with their own "Origins Of..." story. Guys, if you'd like to copy-and-paste and/or expand your stories to this thread, please do; or if you're satisfied with the links I've created, that's cool too.

Here we go....

I watched no baseball in the '60s (too busy being born, crawling around, breaking things) or the '70s (collecting comic books, reading sci-fi novels by Asimov and Niven, breaking things). Baseball was rarely on TV in Newfoundland through the '70s, either. We had only two channels (three if you counted the fuzzy Radio-Canada reception), neither of which carried the game very often. It wasn't until 1981 when my big brother began watching the Montreal Expos in earnest, and I swung into line behind. I still remember the agony of coming so close in that fifth game against the Dodgers.... Ray Burris was the unsung hero of 1981, and never got the due he deserved that postseason.

Anyway, the Expos became my team, but it was a rocky relationship from the start: they were a club loaded with talent but with insufficient luck or willpower to go all the way; I was an immature newbie fan who knew nothing beyond singles, strikeouts and homers and with a young teenager's impossibly high expectations of his favourite team. I had yet to discover that baseball gives you more through a loss than through a win, that the journey was more important than the destination. Through '82 and '83 I tried, I really did, to stick with the 'Spos. But they just had too much bad karma, and I began to think of them as chokers and underachievers, just like the Richard Griffins of the day said they were.

At around the same time, something odd was happening in Toronto: the Blue Jays were unexpectedly starting to win. The Jays had long been a source of derision within the country. For some reason, I have a strong recollection of (get this) a Wayne & Shuster special from the late '70s, when the boys were doing a parody of K-Tel commercials and ended by holding up a tiny 45 and saying, "If you order now, we'll also include: all the hits by the Toronto Blue Jays!" (If you don't know what a 45 is, you're too young to be reading this.) The Jays had always been laughably inept, a pale imitation of real baseball. But more importantly, Toronto the city was difficult to take seriously.

This may be hard to appreciate now, but in the mid- to late-'70s, Montreal was the unofficial capital of Canada. It was rich, exotic and dramatic: home of the flamboyant Prime Minister, an exciting microcosm of Canada's bilingual heritage, the country's very own Olympic Village. Moreover, its sports teams were powerhouses: the Canadiens were still undisputed kings of the NHL, the Expos were gathering steam and even the Alouettes were a strong club. Toronto, meanwhile, was dull. Dull, dull, dull, or at least that's how it appeared. An insular white-bread town that carried itself like a world capital, featureless and flat, oblivious to the rest of Canada and bafflingly scornful of anything non-Toronto. We didn't much like Quebec out in Newfoundland -- do a Google search for "Churchill Falls hydro power" and you'll learn why -- but at least we respected them, like warring siblings. We couldn't stand Toronto. And of course, their sports teams were the diametric opposite of Montreal's: Toronto was home to the Maple Laffs (the sad spectacle of a once-great team), the Arrrghonauts (even by CFL standards they were lame) and those pathetic Blue Jays. Even the networks reflected the difference: strong, smooth CBC carried the Expos, running their terrific theme music, using high-quality graphics and featuring Duke Snider in the booth; sad-sack CTV, the channel that re-ran bad American shows and The Littlest Hobo, brought us the Blue Jays and the detestable Fergie Olver.

Then the '80s happened. Referenda in Quebec scared a lot of big business right out of town and down the St. Lawrence Seaway to Toronto. The Olympic bills started to come due, and the atmosphere in Quebec became sour. For the Expos, their decline was capped by the acquisition of Pete Rose, to "light a fire" under the veteran players. It was a sad sight, Charlie Hustle in an Expos uniform, as mismatched as Jose Canseco in pinstripes. It was an experiment doomed to fail, and I still remember the day that it all fell apart for me. The team had been struggling, and my long-rising frustration level was at the breaking point. Bottom of the ninth, Expos down by a run. Pete Rose singles to lead off the inning. Tim Raines then follows by also singling to right. But Rose overruns the bag at second, and the right fielder throws him out. At the same time, Raines overruns the first-base bag, and he's thrown out by the second baseman. He had singled into a double play. I reached up and changed the channel to the Blue Jays game. I never changed back.

Meanwhile, Toronto was booming, in every way. The explosion of the Reaganite American economy had sparked a similar conflagration on Bay Street, which quickly evolved from brown-suited Briefcaseland to a northern adaptation of a Jay McInerny novel. The flow of immigrants reached critical mass, and the city suddenly appeared vibrant, tolerant, full of life and colour. Montreal now appeared to be yesterday's city, the same old white French-English dialectic played out endlessly in a crumbling infrastructure; Toronto was a little United Nations, a growing media and financial power, The Place To Be. The Expos traded Gary Carter for the likes of Floyd Youmans and Herm Winnigham, officially ending their era; the Blue Jays grew their own talent, picked up guys like Cliff Johnson and (the irony) former Expo Al Oliver to complement it, and won the division in a glorious 1985 season. And then came the playoffs.

Oh, that postseason. One of my best friends in university, Adam, was a huge Royals fan. He has never let me forget the 1985 playoffs. Danny Jackson, Mark Gubicza, Buddy Biancalana and especially George Frickin' Brett, and especially especially, He Who Must Not Be Named, Jim Sundberg. Oh, that was hard to take. Pulling for the Cardinals in the Series only made things worse, as it turned out.

The years fly by after that, in my memory. 1986 -- all I remember is Mark Eicchorn walking in a run against the Red Sox, a lost season. 1987, the awful 1987 season --- do you know, I still recall the last game they won that year? It was at home against Detroit: Juan Beniquez came up with a pinch-hit bases-loaded triple in the ninth to win it. Then came the sweep in Milwaukee and the horrible, horrible sweep in Detroit. 1988 was a blur. 1989 brought Cito Gaston (good) and the playoffs (better!), but it also brought Rickey Henderson and the A's, whom I can never root for because of that series. 1990, a lost year. 1991, the Tom Candiotti start against Minnesota. The Jays could be forgiven fior losing to KC in '85, their first post-season experience; but they should never be forgiven for losing to the Twins in '91. The clock was ticking on this franchise.

Then came 1992. Joyously. Winfield and Morris. Perfectly. Alomar's homer against Eck. Triumphantly. Yet I remember Game 6 against Oakland, leading 9-2 in the 9th, and still being frozen in fear when the last out of the game was grounded to Alomar at second, because something would go wrong, something always goes wrong for this team in the ALCS ---- and yet it didn't, and they were going to the World Series, and in some ways, that was the greatest game I've ever seen, it was the win I thought would never come. The World Series was tense, and my heart was in my mouth when Alfredo Griffin muffed the double-play grounder in the ninth inning of Game 6, and Gaston came out to get Key. But Timlin was the right choice, even in Nixon hadn't bunted, and Carter caught the throw, and they won, they won, they won, they won.

1993 was icing on the cake. I was at Skydome for Game 6, several rows up from the wall, down the left-field line, and I can still remember watching Carter's home run ball hurtling over the fence and banging off the cement wall into the bullpen with a ka-thoomp sound, and remembering nothing else for 10 minutes because of the sensory overload and the delight. I walked through the surging crowds at Bay and King, rode the rollicking subway home. Icing on the cake, but what icing.

The rest of the '90s? Well, you know that story. Gord Ash. The Belgians. Alomar leaving. Dwindling crowds. Olreud for Person. Randy Myers. Tim Johnson. Dave Stewart. Homer Bush. It was hard times again, as the franchise floated and sank, its spoiled fans turning away. Nature loves her cycles, and it was winter at Skydome for many dark years. But now spring is coming around again, it's 1983 once more, and JP is a tougher Pat Gillick, Vernon Wells is a better Lloyd Moseby, and Roy Halladay is a new Dave Stieb. I'm a fan of baseball and of this team in a way that I haven't been for years, and the next decade is going to be fun again, win or lose. But preferably win.

That's how I got here, by way of Ray Burris, Pete Rose, Jim Sundberg, Tom Candiotti, Robbie Alomar and JP Ricciardi. If you have a story to tell about how you got here today, no matter how long or how short, you can tell it right here. Thanks for listening to this one.