I’m waiting, a bit impatiently, for the opening of the American League Divisional Series October 8 at Rogers Centre in Toronto. Yes, I’m waiting for the game, but I’m also waiting to see how the stadium will be decorated, and I’m preparing to be disappointed.
For years now, and likely since the demise of the Montreal Expos, the Toronto Blue Jays have tried to brand themselves as Canada’s team. With their success on the field in the second half of this season, the task has never been easier.
On October 8, they’ll have a chance to prove to baseball fans that they mean it by decorating the stadium in Canadian colours: red and white.
This may seem like a trivial matter, and to many it might be, but it never has been to me. To my mind, Major League Baseball has been largely tone-deaf to its Canadian fan base, and the Jays have been spineless in their response.
In 2002, the Jays yielded to a request from MLB to perform God Bless America at home games during the 7th inning stretch. Their justification: it was an order from the league office and most of their players (though not their fans) were American.
I remember I arguing the point with their communications team. There were plenty of alternatives. I listed several of our own patriotic songs. The league was unlikely to make a case of it. If it did, the Jays would only score points with their fans.
This was a big deal to me. There’s a strong military tradition in my family and at that precise moment I had one close family member training for a difficult deployment overseas. If anyone deserved to be honoured in song on Canadian soil, it was he. I made my case, I lost, and since then any attempt at “Canada’s Team” branding by the Jays has rung hollow in my ears.
Major League Baseball’s Opening Day and post-season are league properties, and teams, including the Jays, have always decorated their stadiums in red, white and blue, the colours of several countries, none of which is called Canada. Would it be such a bold step to lose one of those colours on October 8?
I think it would. More importantly, I know it would be noticed. It would elicit a great deal of commentary. On this side of the border, where the bulk of Jays fans reside and where the team’s sponsors do most of their business, it would be universally applauded.
On the other side of the border, there would be criticism. Maybe, if the Jays are lucky or if Major League Baseball suffers a collapse of judgement, the league office might even try to flex some muscle. The result would be a conversation played out in public, a perfect opportunity for the Blue Jays to dig in their heels and demonstrate, firmly but respectfully, that they are what they claim to be: Canada’s Team.