By Sonny Sachdeva, September 10 2015 —
It’s been a long time since Canada was able to bask in the glory of a baseball championship. The MLB’s lone Canadian franchise, the Toronto Blue Jays, last finished atop the league when they went back-to-back with dual World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. Since that victorious run, though, the Blue Jays have stumbled through 21 years without a single postseason appearance.
But Toronto’s fortunes have taken a dramatic turn in the last month. The club loaded up at the trade deadline, adding two key contributors who have since lifted the Blue Jays into legitimate contender status.
First came the acquisition of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, a five-time All-Star during his time with the Colorado Rockies, on July 28. One day later, the Blue Jays took another big step forward, bringing in heralded pitcher David Price from the Detroit Tigers to shore up a notable weakness in Toronto’s lineup.
The two stars brought both their top-tier skill and some much needed veteran leadership to the Blue Jays locker room, rounding out a roster that had promise but seemed unable to make the jump to championship legitimacy.
But Tulowitzki and Price are far from Toronto’s lone elite talents. Jose Bautista remains one of the game’s most feared hitters, having twice led the MLB in home-runs while earning six All-Star nominations. Edwin Encarnación was named the MLB’s Player of the Month for his monster performance during August — when he led the league in numerous offensive categories and posted a 26-game hitting streak.
The pride of the Blue Jays faithful, however, is undoubtedly Josh Donaldson. The 29-year-old third-baseman currently sits atop the league in terms of slugging percentage, runs batted in, total bases and total runs scored, setting himself up as the favourite for the American League MVP honours. Should Donaldson claim the award, he would be the first Blue Jays player to do so since 1987.
But the most impressive aspect of the Blue Jays current make-up lies not in what Donaldson or any of his teammates has done alone. Rather, it lies in what the group has accomplished as a whole. Since the team’s game-changing trade deadline acquisitions, the Blue Jays have won 26 of 32 games — a dominant run that has put them in first place among their division and has them creeping towards championship favourite status.
Toronto’s astounding record is the result of an exceptionally balanced style of play — one that has repeatedly overwhelmed their opponents. The Blue Jays’ offense has been the best in the sport since the club revamped their roster, evidenced by their league-leading 200 runs over those past 32 contests.
Most offensively potent teams wind up lacking a strong enough defensive game, but the Jays have actually risen to become one of the league’s top defensive squads as well, allowing only 97 runs in the previously mentioned span — the fewest of any team in the MLB.
It’s the type of league-altering change that comes around very rarely — and one that hasn’t been seen in decades. The Blue Jays had already positioned themselves as a strong middle-of-the-pack team, but the club’s savvy roster alterations have catapulted them up the charts into the position of baseball’s best.
Though the team is based in Toronto, the Blue Jays’ success has had a significant impact on all of Canada. Statistics from Google Trends show that web interest from provinces other than Ontario has risen since the Blue Jays began their run. Out-of-province web searches regarding the Blue Jays are now sitting at five times the level they were at just a few months ago.
Ticket sales for Jays games have also skyrocketed as fans from Ontario and around Canada flock to the Rogers Centre to watch Canada’s team continue their storied pursuit. The club’s crowds have reportedly quadrupled over the past month.
The Blue Jays’ rise represents a crucial step forward for the presence of baseball in Canada. One result of Canada’s lone MLB team finding very little success over the past two decades has been a steadily declining rate of youth participation in the sport. According to Statistics Canada, youth participation in baseball has fallen from the double digits to as low as five per cent in the mid-2000’s. As of 2014, baseball wasn’t even among the top 10 organized sports among Canada’s youth, having been ousted by activities like dance, gymnastics and karate, according to the Canadian Youth Sports Report.
But that could be set to change. While a Blue Jays championship won’t right the ship immediately, the buzz currently surrounding the Rogers Centre proves there is legitimate potential for an uptick in national interest as long as the team can continue playing an exciting style of baseball and competing for the top prize. A new era that sees the Blue Jays reign as one of the sport’s top clubs could go a long way in reigniting the interest in young fans around the country.
With only 29 games remaining in the Blue Jays’ 162-game campaign, the team simply needs to stay the course, continue on their current trajectory and await the chance to bring home Canada’s first World Series victory in over two decades. In doing so, they could lay the first brick in the path to baseball’s return to legitimacy among Canada’s youth.