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.