Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays

It's a difficult thing to describe. A feeling in your stomach. A sense that this year may not be like last year, may not be like the last twenty years. A sense that, against all odds, your team, the one you've invested in since you were a kid, is actually good.

The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays didn't feel like that during the first half of the season. They gave their fans glimpses of it,some of which were heartbreaking. They blew out teams and then lost games by a run. The big hit eluded them. So did the shutdown inning,especially by their relievers. They were quixotic, half vitamin and half street drug. You didn't know what you were getting until the second or third inning rolled around. If they were going to win, you knew it. If they were going to lose, if it was close, you knew that, too.

And for a fan, if they were a drug, they weren't particularly healthy. Their run differential spoke of greatness. Their record suggested mediocrity. That's what happens when your team wins 14 - 2, and then loses the next two games of the series by a single run.

For the first half of the season, I could hear my fellow fans. 'Aren't we better than this?' I echoed those comments. The Jays lost in a variety of ways, and in such a wide fashion that calling for someone to be fired made no sense. It was like getting a book from the library and realizing that it was in a foreign language.

And then the trade deadline happened. Specifically, Alex Anthopolous happened. Or made it happen.

Troy Tulowitski, one of the five best players in the game became a Blue Jay.

David Price, a leading contender for the Cy Young award, became a Blue Jay.

Ben Revere, a true left fielder who'd led the NL in hits the year before became a Jay.

Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins were added to the bullpen.

Things changed pretty quickly after that. The questionable, 'what the hell happened' losses ended, and for the next two months the Blue Jays played with joy and verve and arrogance. They ran off another 11 game win streak, won 17 of 18, and jolted past the New York Yankees for the division lead.

It was all so sudden.So amazing. The feeling in my stomach changed, but it was still difficult to accept. For the past twenty two years, the Jays hadn't sniffed the playoffs, languishing behind the powerhouse clubs in the powerful AL East. It was the longest playoff drought in "the big Four" over that stretch.

Twenty two years of never feeling your stomach dance. Twenty two years of mediocrity. Twenty two years of noting the calendar and cheering for individual achievements. A Delgado MVP. (Should have happened) Bautista home run record. Halladay Cy Young. As a Jays' fan, this is what you expected.

At times in September, I had trouble watching the games, though I hadn't missed one in nearly seven years. It was like watching a horror movie between open fingers, but it never became horrible. There was the series in Kansas City, when they took three of four. Later, the series in New York, and then the return date in Toronto, where Russell Martin hit perhaps the biggest home run of the regular season.

The day they clinched the division, I was at a loss. I did not know what to do.I didn't even know how to celebrate.

Playoffs? We're going to the playoffs?

And then Texas. Winning two games on the road, and coming back to have Bautista hit the biggest home run of his life, and doing it in such a way that for the next two innings I watched with tears in my eyes.

The Blue Jays did not get a nationally televised game all year, but here they were,playing for the pennant. Their luck ran out, but when it was over, I was more exhausted than sad. I'd forgotten what it meant to be fan of a good team. A very good team. It had been a long time.

And now, we look towards next season. There are so many questions. What will our rotation look like? What will our bullpen look like? Bautista and Encarnacion are in the last year of their contract,what will happen to them?

We can't count on 2016 being anywhere near as exciting as this one, but that feeling, the one in your stomach that says this might be year, is still there. I'm not used to it, but I like it.