Friday, September 19, 2008

Alone on the Wagon

I am an unabashed Jays fan, always have been and (probably) always will be. Why do I call myself a true fan? Not because I remember the glory years of 1992 and 1993, but because I remember the gory years of the late-90s. I cringe when someone mentions 1987 because of the stunning collapse of the Jays down the stretch: the Jays were in first, 3.5 games ahead of the Tigers, then proceeded to lose their final 7 games, and finished 2.0 games behind the Tigers. I can remember when Roger Clemens was dominating, but I also remember when Mike Sirotka did not pitch a single inning after being proclaimed the new ace pitcher. I appreciate the fact that Dave Stieb has the only no-hitter in organizational history even more because I know that he came within 3 outs or less on 8(!) different occasions previous to that (a MLB record, dontcha know), including back-to-back starts in his final 2 starts of the 1988 season.

This season, I have given up hope that the Jays can make the playoffs, but I will continue to follow the team day in and day out. I know I am not special because I follow a perennially disappointing team, I am a Leafs fan after all (Heyo!).

But why do we (true fans of any team) do this to ourselves? Why do we continue to watch unimportant games?

I do it because there is the chance to see something special. I vividly remember Roy “Doc” Halladay’s coming-out party in 1998, when he came within 2 batters of throwing a no-hitter in his 2nd career start in what was an otherwise unimportant game near the end of the season (it was the 2nd last game of the year, if I remember correctly). I remember feeling the pain when Bobby Higginson hit the pinch-hit home run off of him to break up the no-no and the shutout. I also remember thinking that this Halladay guy might have a future in this league. I remember him having plenty of trouble in 2000, posting the worst ERA ever, among qualified pitchers (that is, he pitched enough innings to qualify to win (or lose) statistical categories). Now, he is only the best pitcher in the American League and is showing no signs of slowing down. I continue to watch him because he could throw a no-hitter in any one of his starts.

Currently, the Jays have called up the diamond of their farm system: Travis Snider. Born February 2, 1988 (yes, he is 20), Snider is the youngest player in the American League this year by about 18 months and just 7 months older than me. He may struggle mightily (like Alex Rios did) or he may have great success (like Doc), but I will be watching, either way, with great interest.

With any sports team, there will be peaks and valleys. But being a true fan means that the valleys are that much deeper. I remember and reflect upon the failures of the Jays, the bad years (Gord Ash), the injuries (Kevin Mench smoking Doc on the shin in the midst of the Doc’s best season), the poor trades (David Wells for Mike Sirotka), the terrible games (Jason Giambi hitting the walk-off home run against BJ Ryan in Yankee Stadium), more than most other fans. But these valleys make the peaks seem even higher: Joe Carter’s homerun, Roger Clemens’ reign of terror, Doc winning the Cy Young, Delgado's 4 HR-game against the Rays.

I can hardly tolerate those who are fair-weather fans because they are not as emotionally invested as I am. Very few people understand how much I love this team and this sport, but it pains me to see people claiming to be Jays fans when they cannot remember the valleys. It is these valleys that truly make the fan experience, and the peaks make it all seem worthwhile. I look forward to the next peak with glee, but accept that there will also be valleys. To paraphrase the Facts of Life, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the true fan experience.

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