TORONTO -- Toronto has been Major League Baseball’s only stable market outside of the United States since the Blue Jays’ inception in 1977, but the fan base has become even more rabid with the success the team has experienced in each of the last two years.
The Blue Jays are in the American League Championship Series for the second straight season, and despite being in an 0-2 hole against the Cleveland Indians in the best-of-seven series, the players and coaches are expecting Rogers Centre to be packed with ardent support from fans for Game 3 tonight.
“It’s definitely changed here the last couple of years,” Gibbons said. “There's something to it. We feel it, and I don't think it's an easy place to play for an opponent, but they came to life, really, last year the second half of the season.
“They continued it this year. You look at our attendance this year, that hasn't happened in a while. It's a loud crowd. It's a young crowd, and they get into it. It would be nice to give them something to cheer about, that's for sure.”
Gibbons would know a thing or two about the pulse of the baseball fans in Toronto, as he is in the midst of his second stint as Blue Jays manager.
After finishing with a 305-305 record in his first tenure with the Blue Jays from 2004-2008, Gibbons has guided Toronto to 30 more wins (339) than losses (309) in his second run, and has the team deep into the postseason once again, which has helped grow fan support throughout the city.
“It’s on fire right now,” Gibbons said of Toronto’s baseball scene. “We saw that last year, but when I first arrived, my first year on the job there was 2002, and our teams weren’t very good, and the attendance was down.
“I probably wouldn’t have paid money to see a team that wasn’t very good either honestly. I couldn’t blame them for that, but I’d always heard the stories of back in the heyday when they won the back-to-back World Series and when the new stadium opened up, there wasn’t a better baseball town out there. I think it was the first team to draw four million people, and that tells you everything you need to know.
“It’s an exciting place. It’s a loud place. The people are on fire, and it’s a good place for home field, that’s for sure.”
In fact, Blue Jays fans are so passionate about seeing good baseball and supportive of the organization that soon-to-be free agents, like Game 1 starter J.A. Happ, do not always look to test the market in the offseason.
“That was a big reason I came back,” Happ said of the fans’ hunger for a championship. “I always felt like the city would really be incredible if we could get to that playoff run, and then, being there last year and seeing it, how the city responded and being part of it this year is tremendous.
“I was fortunate my first couple of years with Philadelphia to go to a couple of World Series, and I experienced kind of that atmosphere there. And after not being in the playoff hunt for the next several years, you’re just that much more anxious to feel that again, and it’s been everything that I’ve been waiting for.”