I was born in Cobourg, about an hour's drive east of Toronto. Throughout the 1980's my family would head into the city on the GO Train, and sit in the left field grandstand and Exhibition Stadium. I was young, but I still remember cheering for George Bell, Dave Steib, and Fred McGriff. It's documented in my baby-book that "OK Blue Jays" was my favourite song as a toddler.
Although I was only 4 years old at the time, my dad likes to remind me I was at the infamous game when George Bell was hit by a pitch and opted to karate kick Red Sox pitcher Bruce Kinson. I don't know exactly how many games we went to in those years. I remember finding a stack of game programs that probably had 20 magazines in it, each with the score page filled out meticulously by my dad. If we weren't at the game, it was usually on TV. If we weren't near the TV, the game was on the radio; in the car, the backyard, or on a campground somewhere in Ontario.
Since we were so far from Toronto, we didn't get back very often. But we did manage to take a family trip to Fenway Park to see the Jays play in August of 1992. We sat on the first base side, partially obstructed behind on of Fenway's famous grandstand poles. The Jays won 7-4. I still have the ticket stub. I also saw the Yankees play at Fenway a few times as well, as part of a Little League trip, but I really couldn't be bothered to care.
When the Jays finally won the World Series in 1992, I was obsessed. I had a different Blue Jays t-shirt for every day of the week, baseball cards for every player, and both home and away hats I would wear on the appropriate days. I was without a doubt the biggest Toronto Blue Jays fan in the northeast United States, which is why I will never forgive my father for taking my mom to game 3... the first World Series game ever played in Canada. Somehow my uncle had gotten tickets, and Dad took mom. Not his rabid-fan, 11 year old son. Granted, he would have had to explain to my brother and two sisters what made him pick me... but come on, it would have been an obvious choice.
Of course, 1993 finished in a more spectacular fashion. The Jays were on top again, this time with five All Stars, the top three hitters in the league, including John Olerud, who finished the season with a .363 average. When Joe Carter drilled his homer down the left field line, I jumped around the living room of my house like a spaz. I still have magazines, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, and souvenirs from those years. I made my mother promise to consult me before ever considering throwing them out. I swear if she ever touched that box, I'd suddenly feel physically ill 200 miles away.
In 1997, my family moved to a town near Boston. Baseball still hadn't recovered from the strike, the Red Sox were pretty bad, and getting tickets at Fenway was pretty easy and cheap. Over the course of a few years, I got to see the Jays play at Fenway Park at least 6-8 more times. In the heyday of Red Sox Nation a decade later, I laughed and wondered how I had been so fortunate to walk into that park so many times when people couldn't even get a ticket anymore. I still have those ticket stubs too. You'll see this is a pattern.
I finished highschool, and at the end of August 1999 I moved to Toronto for university. I had only been in town for a day or two before I made my way down to the SkyDome for a game. It was Thursday, September 2nd... I know this because I still have the ticket stub. It cost me $6 and was against the Twins. Jays won 6-1, Carlos Delgado homered, and David Wells picked up his 13th win. (I admit, I looked that stuff up. I've been to so many games in the last 13 years that specific memories blur together). I also went to see the Jays play the Yankees on September 14th, and the White Sox on the 17th. Both were losses.
I went to as many baseball games as I could in my four years at Ryerson University. Other than the summer after my first year, I lived in Toronto full time, was never more than a short walk to the Dome. I remember pre-season double headers against the Dodgers, and Opening Day walk-off dinger by Tony Batista (his 2nd of the game) and making sure I made it to an Orioles game in 2001to make sure I could say that I saw Cal Ripken play in the last season of his career.
I have trouble explaining my love affair with baseball, and specifically the Toronto Blue Jays. It's been a part of my life since before I was born, and continues to entertain and excite me to this day. The franchise is only a few years older than me, but I can say with absolute certainty, we've grown up together, and without them, I would be a very different human being.
So... bring on 2012. OK, Blue Jays.... Let's play ball!