Who Were They? The Montreal Royals
When you think of baseball in Canada it is safe to guess that the Toronto Blue Jays come to mind. The Jays were the first Major League team outside of the United States to win the World Series, which they did in 1992 and 1993. This cemented their place in the hearts of Canadians everywhere. They wear the maple leaf on their hats and shirts, and brand themselves as "Canada's team." This title rings true as the Jays are now the only team north of the border, and all 162 of their games are broadcasted nationally on TV and the radio. But the Jays aren't the beginning and end of baseball in Canada. You may also think of the Montreal Expos. Sadly, the Expos moved away to Washington D.C. in 2004 and became the Nationals. Montreal's MLB franchise was actually the first of it's kind in Canada, coming into the Majors in 1969 – they Jays weren't born until 1977. They never won a World Series title but had a number of great teams, and it's widely thought that had the 1994 season not been cut short by a labour strike, the Expos would have won it all. The Expos have a sort of cult following, partially due to their quirks: they belonged to a french-speaking city, played in the unconventional Olympic Stadium, and had a wacky logo and uniforms. No team had worn a "pinwheel" hat before in the Majors, and it took some convincing to get people to believe that their cap actually did have an "M" on it. The Expos also had great, easy-to-love players, such as Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Dennis Martinez, and Gary Carter. Guys that hustled and played with a smile on their faces. The thing is, though – you can't stop at the Jays and Expos... Baseball in Canada is much more than that. The country has a long history of minor league, semi-pro, and, of course, amateur ball. Every major hub from east to west has some dirt-covered baseball story to be told, but for the sake of time, we're going to stick with Montreal right now. Not with the Expos, but with the other big club that has called the city home: the Royals, a professional minor league franchise that played from 1897 to 1917, and from 1928 to 1960. The Royals were part of the International League during that second period, between 1928 and 1960, serving as an affiliate to three Major League clubs – the Philadelphia A's, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers – though the bulk being with one team, the Dodgers. This relationship lasted 21 years over two class designations, AA and AAA. The Royals, who played out of Delorimier Stadium, borrowed the Dodgers look, donning blue accents and a flowy, cursive script. And it was the Royals' relationship with the Dodgers that ensured the team would be widely remembered. In 1946, Branch Rickey, President and GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract. This made Robinson the first black man to be part of a MLB-affiliated roster, breaking the unofficial, but thoroughly enforced, colour barrier. He was a sensation in Montreal from the start, winning the fans' hearts with a hot bat and daring base stealing. In his one season with the Royals Robinson hit .349 with 113 runs and a whopping 40 stolen bases. That year Robinson would guide the Royals to 100 wins and a 1st-place IL finish, and to a Junior World Series victory against the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. Clearly ready for a shot at a Major League roster, off he went to the Dodgers pre-season camp in 1947. It's famously noted that Royals fans chased Robinson to the train station – described thusly by Sam Maltin, a freelancer writing for the Pittsburgh Courier: "It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind." The Royals would continue to have success after Robinson's departure, winning five more IL titles before 1960. They won an all-Canadian showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs to grab their final trophy, in 1958. Despite this success the Royals struggled to keep attendance up in the later years. In 1960 the Dodgers, now two years into their LA adventure, decided to cut ties with Montreal. This was the death knell – the Royals packed up and moved to Syracuse for the 1961 season. While professional baseball has come and gone in Montreal, the legacy of the Royals and their 1946 season remains. They are part of baseball history, Canadian or otherwise. Jackie Robinson changed the game forever, and that journey started in Montreal.
Let's Play Two: the Singular Beauty of the Doubleheader
If you were to attach a particular saying to Cubs' great Ernie Banks, it would certainly be "let's play two" – meaning, play back-to-back ballgames in a single day. The ever-smiling, affable Banks understood how lucky major leaguers are to play a child's game for a living. Why play one game when you could play two? The doubleheader is unique to baseball; it would not be possible with any other sport. Hockey, basketball, and football are too taxing on the body to accommodate such a schedule. Baseball's more meandering pace allows for six-plus hours of it to be played in a single day. In fairness, doubleheaders are no longer a preplanned event – they were once commonplace, but now are usually the result of poor weather (when a game is rained out it's easy to bump it over to the following day before a night start). Still, they happen a handful of times in a season and are a long haul for those involved. Nothing helps a team grab some momentum during the regular season like taking two games in a single day. The Blue Jays did it this season against the Royals, winning the first 11-3 and then 5-4 in extras. Having your record skip forward two happy steps is like gaining an extra day while travelling; it's as if you have one up on everybody else. Losing both games of a doubleheader results in utter dejection. Kick a man while he's down, why don't you. It feels much worse to lose two in one day than it does two in two, despite it being, in reality, the same thing numbers-wise. Go on to lose the next day and get swept? There is no pill more bitter to swallow – just ask the Royals. No matter your particular allegiances as a fan – and therefore possible sorrows for being on the losing end – it's important to cherish the doubleheader when it happens. They are, as previously mentioned, more of a rarity these days. The doubleheader is a throwback to an earlier time, a time when Mr. Cub gleefully roamed the infield. Sadly, Ernie is no longer with us, but his memory comes calling back every time two games are played in a single day. The hot summer sun coming down on the Wrigley Field bleachers. Cold beer and ice cream. You buy one ticket and spend a full day at the park, nowhere else to be and nothing to worry about except getting a W. Yep, let's play two.
Five Thoughts from the First Blue Jays Series of the 2018 Season
The 2018 Major League Baseball season is officially underway. The Yankees came to town for four against the Jays to start things off, and we've got some thoughts from the series. Happy reading! 1. Playing the Yankees is going to be tough. This offseason there was a lot of talk about the Bronx Bombers living up to their nickname with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton to a line up of existing home run hitters, like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. It certainly didn't take long for them to do so; Stanton sent a solo dinger into the bleachers in his first regular season at bat as a Yankee. Stanton then homered again later in the game, this time a two-run shot, and Brent Gardener added to the talley with his own in the 8th. Bombers indeed. 2. Josh Donaldson's arm doesn't look so great. There were some concerns about The Bringer of Rain towards the end of spring training, that he had a bum shoulder, and it didn't temper any concerns that he stayed home for the Jays' two exhibition games in Montreal. Opening Day confirmed there is definitely a problem; Donaldson made four or five throws and all of them were muffins. He seems fine to hit, and perhaps the arm issue doesn't hurt too much, but considering the Jays luck with injuries last year it is worrisome. It would be DH duties for Donaldson in game two, three, and four (Yangervis Solarte came in at third base), so it remains to be seen how long JD will be away from 3B. ***Update: Donaldson will be in the lineup at third tonight against the White Sox. 3. Justin Smoak's great 2017 season may have been legit. Prior to last season, Smoak had been an average ballplayer – a good fill-in option with some pop, but not really a reliable starter. In 2017 the South Carolinian got regular playing time and had a break-out season at the age of 30, finishing with 90 RBIs, 38 home runs, a .270 batting average – all career bests by far – and an All-Star Game appearance. Smoak has picked up where he left off last year. He single-handedly beat the Yankees in game four of the series, first by crushing a two-run home run over the outfield wall and then with a grand slam later in the game. For the season he's batting .368 and has eight RBIs, which is a great start. 4. Yangervis Solarte is all energy and good vibes. The 30-year-old Venezuelan came to the Jays from the Padres this off-season and has already made an impact a few games in. He can play all over the infield and has filled in admirably at third base with Josh Donaldson hurting. Solarte's bat helped the Jays get their first win of the season, and he has also been the team's number-one cheerleader in the dugout. Every time the Jays score you'll see Solarte dancing around with a smile from ear to ear; he provides the kind of positive vibes any team needs to keep things light over a gruelling 162-game season. 5. The Jays should have great support from the fans once again. The last two seasons have seen Canada's team finish in the top five for attendance figures and you'll find fans at every away series (especially in Seattle, where Western Canadians take over). Over the last five years the country has really embraced the Jays and this season should be no different. The Dome was loud over the first four games and will be all spring and summer, especially if the team plays more like they did in 2015 and '16. The Jays lost the first two to the Yankees 6-1 and 4-2 respectively, but fought back to win the remaining two games of the series, 5-3 and 7-4 results. New York has been pegged by many to take it all this season, so good on the Jays for battling tough. Canada's team might just surprise some people this season.
Here Comes the Blue Birds
It may be hard to believe it with much of North America still fighting rain and snow and cold temperatures, but the Major League Baseball regular season is set to begin this Thursday! For most of us in Canada, that means Blue Jays baseball. It's exciting to know that very soon we'll be able to cheer on Canada's team live, from the Dome, the bar, or at home. And hopefully Mother Nature will get the hint and bring out the sunshine right quick, as nothing goes along with baseball quite as well as a bright, blue-skied day. Because of this, we often forget that in Toronto for the Jays' first ever game, it snowed. Yes, on April 7, 1977 there was a snowstorm. How typically Canadian. And the Jays didn't have the shelter of the Rogers Centre roof – at that time they played in the more rustic, open-air Exhibition Park off of Lake Ontario. A decent layer of snow covered the field, making it seem more the site of some Winter Olympic event than a baseball game. Some of the players went around with catchers' pads as show-shoes and bats as ski poles, allowing for one of the best game-day photos ever: The game was not called, of course – this was Canada, a little snow was nothing to fret over. A Zamboni-like snowblower cleaned up the field and things got underway. The Jays would win the franchise/season opener 9-5 over the visiting Chicago White Sox in front of 44,649 intrepid fans. First baseman Doug Ault would be the hero of the day, knocking in four runs and scoring two himself. It would be one of few high points for the Jays that season as they went on to lose 107 games. Still, it's always nice to win your first – especially when you've faced three hours and twenty-two minutes of single digit, snowy weather! Flying forward to last season, the Jays had a much nicer start in terms of the elements, but on the field their form was disastrous; they would get off to a 1-9 start over their first ten games, the worst in franchise history. Yes, worse than what the 107-loss baby birds of '77 could manage. Behind the ball from the start, the Jays could not get over the .500 hump at any point last year and missed the postseason. The roster hasn't changed too much going into this season, apart from the departure of face-of-the-franchise Jose Bautista, so it remains to be seen whether the club can take flight in 2018. 2015 and 2016 were happy days for the Jays as they made it within a couple of games of the World Series both seasons, so that will be the goal this time around, to get back to the postseason and make some noise. But no matter what happens this year one thing is for sure: there will never be another game like that of April 7, 1977.
True to the Blue: Jays Fans Invade Seattle
It's become tradition for West Coast-based fans of the Blue Jays to head down from B.C. and Alberta to Safeco Field for the team's yearly series in Seattle. Watch the broadcast and you'll find it hard to pin down the game's locale. Jays fans take over. Though the Mariners' slogan has been "True to the Blue" as of late, it's not their navy but the Jays' royal blue that permeates the ground on these three days of summer. The scene is set... “Hey, Steve, who’s ballpark is this anyway?” “You know what, Tom, at this point I couldn’t even tell ya. Attendance today has got to be 50/50. At least. I’d say more of ’em.” “And the team shop? — ridiculous.” “Huh?” “You haven’t seen?! Man, they’ve got Toronto stuff in there!” “Jeeeez” “It’s embarrassing, really.” “I guess you can’t blame the club, they’re making money. Tickets, merch. That’s what they’re in it for. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em sorta thing.” “I guess… I dunno, I just think you’ve got to do a better job getting fans out — make it a thing: ‘protect our home park’.” “Sure, sure.” Crowd chanting: “Let’s go Mariners!” “LET’S GO BLUE JAYS!” “Let’s go Mariners!” “LET’S GO BLUE JAYS!” “See, these damn Canadians are way louder. We’re getting drowned out here.” “We oughta write the club a letter, give ‘em a piece of our minds. How long have we been coming to games now? 25-30 Years?” “Kingdome, Steve.” “Those were the days… Sweet Lou, The Kid, Edgar, Tino. Beatin’ the Yanks in the Division Series. The park stunk…” “–Brutal.” “…but it was ours. Then 2001, 116 wins. Good times, my friend, good times. I tell ya, if I had one wish...” “–Hey gents, sorry to interrupt, but we couldn’t help but overhear ya.” “Uh oh, here we go.” “No, no, we actually want to thank you M’s fans, for your hospitality. Living so far from the Jays, we really appreciate gettin’ to come down here once a year.” “Where you guys from, Vancouver?” “Yep” “So what gives, we’re a heck of a lot closer than Toronto. Why don’t we get any love from you folks.” “Canada’s team, man!” “Yeah, yeah. Cough, bandwagon, cough” “Really, though, the whole country gets behind the Jays. Anyway, thanks for havin’ us… we appreciate that it's a friendly rivalry.” “Don’t even get me started. Listen, you’re welcome and all, but it’s frustrating on our end, giving up the home field so easily. This is our park.” “I feel that. Just the way it is at this point, I guess.” “Well, Tom, at least we can agree on one thing with these guys: beer. Am I right? “Cheers to that, eh!” “Cheers. Tom…?” “Fine, cheers, boys.”