Baseball Season Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.

Well, we're less than a month away from the start of baseball — spring training is here! — so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.

Today: The Toronto Blue Jays. Your author is Neate Sager.

Neate Sager is Canadian and a big fan of beer barons at Out Of Left Field. His words are after the jump.

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The era when 50,000 people packed the Skydome-slash-Rogers Centre every game are long gone, but we're gonna keep it raucous all summer long in Mr. Rogers' neighbourhood as Doc, B.J., Vernon, Big Hurt and the boys go after a playoff spot. The Blue Jays are back, and we aren't keeping quiet about it.

Speaking as someone born in 1977, the same year as the Jays - which sort of makes me the bastard son of Ernie Whitt, the longest-serving original '77 Jay who's now one of the team's coaches - the heart and soul of the Jays Nation is in the 25-to-34 demo (give or take a couple years) who grew up during the glory years. We had this great childhood that peaked with the World Series titles in 1992-93, although with any Jays fan above a certain age it always begins with retelling the heartbreak of either 1985 (losing the ALCS to Kansas City after being up 3-1) or '87 (losing the last seven games to finish two behind the Tigers).

Before we knew it, those days were over, and we were deep into awkward-adolescent/young adult hell: Bad apartments, dead-end jobs, absentee foreign ownership, a half-empty stadium, a manager, Tim Johnson, who lied about killing people in Vietnam and worst of all, Jose Canseco in the outfield. Some of us might have kept our distance at times, but we kept the faith.

We've come of age, and now team owner Rogers Communications has beefed up the payroll to give us the winner we deserve - well, there's that, and the corporate imperative that more people watching the Jays equals greater sales of cellphones and CrackBerries. Rogers has us by the balls twice over, so we might as well make life miserable for the poor bastards who think they can beat our Blue Jays.

That goes triple for the Evil Empires. Last year, the Jays got complaints about rowdy fans from Red Sox and Yankees supporters who followed their (overrated) teams up to Toronto. That's right: They complained that they were treated rudely by Canadians. Actually, that's kind of admirable: They didn't care about how much that made them look like a bunch of thin-skinned wimps.

Well, there's more where that came from. The Jays should give us a lot to shout about in '07 after finishing second in the AL East last year despite letting Josh Towers start 12 games, changing their shortstop every other week and having a payroll that was $50 million lower than Boston's and $130 million lower than the Yankees'. If the Jays can take the wild card, anything's possible.

The best thing the Jays did for themselves this winter wasn't the Frank Thomas signing - it was not signing Ted Lilly, who went to the Cubs. Symbolically, getting rid of the pitcher who had that infamous dugout fight with manager John Gibbons after being yanked from a game last August is akin to the Toronto Raptors closing the books on the Vince Carter era before the start of this season by giving his number 15 to an anti-Vin Weasel, Jorge Garbajosa, a humble, hard-working team guy. The Jays were hexed so long as their starting rotation included Lilly, who graduated magna cry loudest in being a prima donna while studying under Professor Mike Mussina with his original team, the Yankees. Jays fans could give a three-day-old Timbit about Mussina being a future Hall of Famer - to us, he's the stugots who whined to the press back in 2004 after a power failure at Skydome pushed back a pregame tribute to sainted Blue Jays play-by-play voice Tom Cheek, who was ill with the brain cancer which took his life barely one year later. As greater minds put it, sure, Mike, having your pre-game preparations disrupted does suck, but you know what else sucks? Brain cancer.

Getting rid of the Lilly-Yankees taint is huge. The Jays are in the game with a strong lineup, a solid 1-2 pitching punch with Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, a lights-out lefty closer in B.J. Ryan and plenty of options for filling out the rest of the pitching staff.

If there's a downside to a Jays resurgence, it's that it would bring back the bandwagon-jumpers who were so irritating to deal with in the early '90s, but who filled the ballpark. The '94 strike and the breakup of the championship team kind of led to a purge, but in a good way.

There are fewer, but better Jays fans, and the hard core are crazy about this team. Maybe you want to tell us we're a bunch of maple syrup-swilling Canucks and no one in America could give a damn about us and we should stick to hockey and curling, but we love the Jays unconditionally and we manage not be a bunch of tools about it like about, oh, only 90 per cent of Red Sox fans.

Just try to please appreciate that this is being written at the end of a day that began with stepping through foot-high snowdrifts and shielding one's face against a biting Arctic wind on the way to work in the dead of a Canadian winter. It won't be that long until the Jays are back playing ball, and that's enough to keep you warm.