By Rob Ficiur
On Tues., Sept. 20 I was driving home from Lethbridge and turned on the radio. I knew the Blue Jays were playing in Seattle, so I wondered how they were doing. As I got to the station there was a hit and the crowd went wild. I grumbled, “Why are those Blue Jays behind again?” I was wrong. The Blue Jays were in the process of scoring eight runs on eight hits (and a walk) in a row. The fans gave them a standing ovation when the inning ended. I wondered to myself, “They are in Seattle aren’t they?” Yes, they were on the West Coast in wheat we might call Toronto West.
The Seattle Mariners averaged 28,000 fans per game in the 2016 season. In the three weekday games with the Blue Jays the attendance averaged 35,992. In contrast, Seattle average 17,790 in a four game series against early in September. Vancouver, Canada’s third largest city is only 234 kilometers from Seattle. Since the Blue Jays only play in Seattle once a year, many Canadians make the trip to Toronto West to cheer for Canada’s team.
A few days later, Sat., Sept. 23, Jose Bautista hit an eighth inning three run homer to give the Jays a lead against the New York Yankees. The home town Toronto fans. (the real Toronto this time) cheered about as loud as the Seattle Blue Jays fans. (In a car radio it is hard to get an exact volume measurement). But the same car radio had a similar volume whether the runs were scored in Toronto or Seattle.
It is almost unheard of to have visiting fans out number (and out volume) the home town fans. Why does it happen to the Blue Jays? There are three simple answers. First, the team is winning and that enthusiasm is contagious. Second, Canada has only one Major League baseball team. From coast to coast we get every Blue Jays game on television. A Canadian baseball fans has to be going against the flow if you cheer against the Jays. Third, many Canadians plan their holidays to attend Jays games in other cities. The Vancouver – Seattle connection is easy to identify this past week. The Blue Jays seem to have home games in other northern USA cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and of course rival New York and Boston.
What other teams have so many visiting fans they sound like home games?
The Chicago Cubs get visiting fans cheering for them. Why would they have such a loyal following when they leave their home park of Wrigley Field? First, Chicago is within driving distance of several cities including Milwaukee and St. Louis. One Milwaukee fan had a sign at a game that said “This is not Wrigley Field North.” Second, some fans suggest it is easier in this nearby cities to get good tickets than at baseball crazy Chicago. If Canadians don’t understand just remember that every Toronto Maple Leafs game is sold out whether the team wins or not. Third, the Cubs are the best team in baseball. Again winning creates more fans, and louder fans. Fourth, the Cubs are everyone’s second favorite team. Their lovable loser status has endeared them to baseball fans. They have not won a World Series since 1908. They have not been to a World Series final since 1945. They have to win sometime… don’t they?
The Saskatchewan Roughriders have fans in the stands no matter where they play. This year, the Riders have won only three games, yet win or lose fans in other cities show up to cheer on their team. Why the Roughriders? First, despite two losing seasons in a row they have been as a good as any CFL team. Since 2000, the Riders have won two championships, the latest in 2013. Three teams; BC, Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal have won three Grey Cups in that time period. No team has dominated, but the Green Riders have won enough to keep fans engaged. Second, the province directly east of us has only one professional sports team. Fans from Saskatchewan cheer for the Roughriders because it represents their province; even if the people no longer live in the province the Green Rider Blood must still flow through their veins. Third, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are the second favorite team for many CFL fans. Like the Chicago Cubs, the Riders have traditionally struggled to win. Growing up I remember feeling sorry for those Riders who lost all the time. This year with another dismal year, we feel sorry for them again. Subconsciously, we appreciate the overall determination of Rider fans; they go the extra mile wearing water melons on their heads to cheer on their team. Who else do you know (besides Rider fans) wears a water melon on their head?
Forty years ago we had to watch the games that CBC and CTV put on the television. Today fans can watch every game in every sport through satellite and internet feeds. Cheering for the visiting teams may become more common in the future where geography may not determine our loyalties. For now, it is still uncommon to hear the visiting fans cheering louder than the home crowd.