September 29, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Toronto Blue Jays mascot prior to a game against the New York Yankees at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Wave Goodbye?

It’s no secret that going to a Toronto Blue Jays home game provides a less than spectacular baseball experience. In fact, the Rogers Centre is commonly ranked near last in MLB stadium rankings and has recently ranked 112th in Stadium Experience out of 122 in ESPN’s 2012 Ultimate Rankings, which covers every major sports franchise in North America. This Stadium Experience stat combines the scores of 3 qualifications; stadium appeal (112th), value of promotional giveaways (84th) and how fan friendly the stadium environment is (112th). Right now, there are no plans to renovate the Rogers Centre or move the team to another stadium, so there is nothing the Jays organization can improve in that regard. Rogers has enough funds and corporate connections to increase promotions if they wanted, so that is easy to change. The one true aspect that is difficult to control is a great baseball fan environment.

How can this be greatly improved? It can be as simple as prohibiting the wave at the Rogers Centre.

There is nothing in the world more disrespectful an action to a team’s players done by the fans than performing the wave while play is on. When the players are on the field and giving it their all, it’s time to pay attention. While it won’t fix all the problems that plague the Rogers Centre experience, it is the biggest problem due to the fact it distracts the fans from the game that many paid to see.

In most cases, the wave is started by a small group of people, usually 1-4 loud, boisterous 26-35 year old male(s) sitting near the foul pole in the field level seating, since those who attempt to start the wave at higher levels have a harder time pulling it off due to the fact people sitting below them can’t see them. While play is going on, the wave-starters begin yelling to their section that they are going to start the wave, and after counting down to 1, they should throw up their hands in order to try to get the wave going across the stadium. Usually what happens in the early going is maybe the entire first section goes strong and the wave dies out quickly after. It takes multiple tries to get the momentum going, make people aware of what’s going on and ultimately bring the attention to the wave-starters. Once those three things have been achieved does the wave make it across the stadium successfully, with the wave-starters applauding themselves for their efforts.

What should be noted is a person or small group of persons, in effect, is distracting a whole stadium from the play. Essentially, the “fans” involved at the core are doing their best to place their signature onto the events at the stadium. It is self-congratulation at its worst. The act itself tells the players, “I would rather do anything else in the world than pay attention to what you are doing,” and makes enough noise and movement for the players and fans to take notice. Countless times I’ve been to games at the formerly-titled Skydome, usually across the stadium from the guilty party and every time the wave is performed, you can hear the fans around you make comments about the wave starting somewhere, about getting prepared and ultimately performing their part when the wave comes around to them. What you do not hear is comments about if Rajai Davis is going to swipe second here on ball one or two, if Brett Lawrie is going to turn it around and break out next year, or if John Farrell will stick around to finish his contract. While all conversation should not be 100% baseball related, when you care enough to make plans to come down to the ball park, baseball should be top priority.

The worst part about correcting this issue is that it becomes a free speech issue. Who would Rogers think they are to tell people what they can and cannot do in a ball park that is in compliance with the law? The wave was unofficially banned at one point or another at Wrigley Field and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to vocal dismay by some of their fans. That’s why it is up to the diehard Blue Jays fans to create a culture of baseball acceptance at our stadium. Show appreciation for baseball efforts made by players and fans. Continue to make noise when the players are doing well, and quit booing your own team like they’re not giving a damn when they’re giving a major league effort. Cheer the fan that makes the outstanding foul ball catch, who throws back the opposing team’s home run ball, who makes the witty heckle. Discourage the fan that steals a kid’s foul ball, who makes the argument that batting average is the most important hitting stat, who wears sporting gear of both the home and away team at the same time (it happens).

Most importantly, tell the person who’s trying to starting the wave in your section that there’s a game going on. Maybe over time we can get that electric fan experience we had in the past to be a real thing for years to come.

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  • Besler

    Despite hating the wave myself I have to disagree with you. ESPN likes to release ranking like these that are based off very poor criteria, is 33% of your stadium experience the value of giveaways? Is legenday Fenway park a worse experience than The Rogers Centre? ESPN also claimed that the Toronto Maple Leafs are ‘the worst franchise is sports.’ What does that even mean!? It makes for good discussion, but their rankings are so highly subjective it cannot be taken too seriously.

    I do agree the Jays do not have a great atmosphere, but I attribute that to them not having a great team…For twenty years. The stadium configuration also hinders the atmosphere in the stadium. 40% of the stadium seating is in the 500 section so unless the stadium is close to full, it looks quite empty on television and the collabortation between the 100. 200 and 500 sections is very difficult in a vast stadium. Thus you find that sections of the stadium are quite segregated in terms of their contributions to the game. (like clapping and chants). Having a more intimate stadium usually provides better atmosphere where one voice can be heard rather than countless at Rogers Centre.

    The Wave does not necessarily correlate with fair-weather fans and not paying attention to the game. For example it is huge in Mexico which is known to have great fan support for soccer. Frankly, I don’t think the banishment of it would at all change the atmosphere for the better or make a better experience at the Rogers Centre. If people buy tickets to the game they should be able to support the team in any way they want (within legal reason). I don’t think the players are thinking that the fans aren’t supporting them because they’re doing the wave.

    The issue of fan support is much more complicated. I don’t think anything as petty as banning the wave would improve it. If it is accepted that The Rogers Centre will be home for a while I suggest the best way to improve atmosphere and game day experience would be to tighten and conentrate the fans in specific areas (closing of sections in the 500 level outfield and baselines) and focusing on filling up the 100 and 200 sections. Also maybe they could allow fans in the 500 level to move down after the first inning or two. I don’t know how this could be accomplished but I am sure there is a way. This has happened to me at Toronto Phatoms and Raptors games as a kid. More simply, win and the Rogers Centre will improved in terms of atmosphere.

    • JohnnyMac4ever

      I agree with Besler that the stadium is a large part of the problem. The SkyDome wasn’t built as a baseball stadium, it was built as an all-purpose building. I think it would be much better for the Jays to build a new stadium specifically for baseball. Look at the fan support and interest teams like the Twins and Marlins got with their new stadiums recently.

      While I agree that the wave is annoying, I don’t see how you can ban it, short of throwing out anyone who tries to start it. That seems extreme. There are always going to be a few idiots at any game.

      The best solution, I think, would be to put a better product on the field. The Jays had among the most committed fans in the league back in the World Series years. However, those fans, and especially the younger fans, are getting frustrated with how long it is taking to get back into contention. This year was a big disappointment, not because we expected to make the playoffs, but because we expected (or at least hoped) to be in competition in August. The Jays haven’t even sniffed the playoffs since 1993. I guarantee that if they were to get back into competition, the fans would come back, and would be paying full attention to the game.

      Also, while I agree people should talk baseball during baseball games, I think perhaps it is time to ban people who talk about sabermetrics without understanding them. But that’s just my opinion.

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