The 2014 season has ended. While that will take a bit of time for me to process, I cannot take too long. There is bound to be a flourish of blog posts dissecting the Blue Jays season that was. So, to get a jump on it, I present you with a two part series that looks at this season from two different angles. Previously, I gave you Part 1: Toronto Blue Jays: A Quantitative Study. Today, I bring you the 2nd part: Toronto Blue Jays: a Qualitative Study.
Qualitative studies often entail less statistical analysis and use more small samples of information gathered through less mathematical methods. A qualitative study gathers data through methods such as interviews, observations and story telling. This is a much more comfortable method of evaluation for me. Numbers and I don’t get along. But words? Now you’re talking. For this post, I’m going to look at what we can gather based on stories and word of mouth with an eye to answering the same question I posed with the qualitative (numbers & stats) study:
Was 2014 a good season for the Toronto Blue Jays?
The talk surrounding this team coming in to the season took a negative tone. Fans were upset after a VERY quiet off season. With the signing of Dioner Navarro being the highlight of the winter. Of course, there were lots of rumors and gossip to follow. The Blue Jays were linked to just about every free agent out there and most trades too. Sadly, with every passing opportunity, the talk became more disheartening. There was not much hope for this team. I remember a friend of mine (a Red Sox fan who was still reveling in his team’s world championship) scoffing at me and saying, “Your team didn’t do anything. How can they possibly be any better with the exact same guys?!” All I could do was shake my head and say “We’ll see. You wait.” Really, there wasn’t much conviction behind it.
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Then the season started. There was some reason to be optimistic. The aging Yankees were scuffling. The aforementioned Red Sox were heading in the wrong direction (for my friend, anyway). The whole division was relatively close. The Blue Jays had a chance! There was cautious optimism. We were afraid to get too excited.
Then May happened! On May 1st, the Blue Jays were 2.5 games back with a 13-15 record. Not too shabby. Then they got hot! I mean HOT! Edwin Encarnacion was dropping bombs and chicken wings seemingly every night. He’d finish the month with 16 home runs and led his club to a 2.5 game lead in the division with a 33-24 record. The Blue Jays went 20-9 in May. They were in first place! People were pumped! My Red Sox fan friend couldn’t look at me. His club was 6 games back of mine. I never missed a chance to rub it in, either. It was a great time to be a Blue Jay fan.
Being from the east coast of Canada, it is hard for the Blue Jays to get air time. It is pretty quiet around here during the summer. We have three seasons: before hockey season, hockey season and after hockey season. There is not much attention paid to Canada’s only baseball team. Except when they are in first place. Everywhere I went, people wanted to talk about the Blue Jays. My students, who couldn’t care less about baseball, would walk by and give me high fives and ask if I saw the game last night. If I went to the grocery store, random strangers would come up to me and want to talk Blue Jays. They’d see my hat or my shirt and be all like, “Man, they’re on fire! Think it’ll last?”
See, with the renewed interest in the Blue Jays comes the skepticism of people who remembered why they haven’t followed the team for almost 20 years. They know how bad it’s been since 1993. They were afraid to commit to being excited. But, June started with a 6 game win streak! There was real excitement building. Mark Buehrle was looking like a Cy Young candidate. Could this really have been happening? It was like it was too good to be true. Yet, they held on to first place for all of June. They were starting to make believers out of people.
“All the air had been let out of my balloon of excitement. It wasn’t even flailing around anymore. The air had all left and my excitement was just a used rubber mess on the ground.”
Yet, there were those who still did not give in. Even the GM, Alex Anthopoulos, was trying not to get caught up in the excitement. He would often remind us that baseball is a long season and there was a far way to go. He didn’t want to get optimistic. He was enjoying the ride, but it was almost like he was telling us, “Don’t book your post season tickets yet. We all know this can end any time. We are the Blue Jays, remember”. So, while some fans were getting excited and dreaming of October baseball, others stayed skeptical. Regardless which side of that fence you were on, people were talking. The Blue Jays were part of regular conversation in many houses and around many water coolers.
Then July came. On July 4th, Baltimore took over 1st place. Now, the Blue Jays had a winning month, going 15-11, but Baltimore had a better month. By the end of the month, Toronto sat at 10 games above .500 and just 1.5 back. While it wasn’t the best result, they were still within striking distance.
My trip down to Fenway Park at the end of July opened my eyes. The Blue Jays had just come in and trounced the Red Sox 14-1. The Sox were throwing in the towel, they were about to get rid ofJon Lester
and concede the year. The Red Sox fan sitting behind me at Fenway was lamenting his season. But, he took the time to tell me how he’d been following the Blue Jays and he really thought they had a legitimate shot at winning this year. Another fan said to her boyfriend, “That picture ofRyan Goins
looks like Jean Claude Van Damme.” to which he replied, “I’ll bet Van Damme can hit better.” See? Even Red Sox fans have been paying attention to the club from the north. Neither was wrong. Not about Goins’ ability to hit or the Jays being contenders.
But, then August happened. Ugh. A 9-17 record, a 2-9 road trip and a -46 run differential came at the absolute wrong time of the season. They had dropped 9 games more to settle at 10.5 games out of the division lead in August. By the end of the month, all the air had been let out of my balloon of excitement. It wasn’t even flailing around anymore. The air had all left and my excitement was just a used rubber mess on the ground. My smug jabs at my friend had turned to sheepish embarrassment. The people in the grocery store saw my hat and shirts and just shook their heads. There were no smiles, there were no high fives. There was just “What happened?” As if I had something to do with it. All I could say was “Injuries, blah blah blah” If I felt energetic, I’d join in the bashing of Alex Anthopoulos or Rogers for not making a huge deal to save the season. The Negative Nellys were all screaming, “I told you so” and “They’ll never win because ownership is too cheap”. They would spout this to anyone and everyone who would listen.
But, a funny thing was happening. Just as many people were still talking about the Blue Jays. The baseball season was winding down and the club had dug itself too big a hole to climb out of. Hockey was just around the corner, football was just starting up. Yet, people were still talking Blue Jays. My students returned from summer vacation and wanted to talk about the Blue Jays. Lots had been paying attention. Marcus Stroman had become a household name. Aaron Sanchez was no longer just another name. People were (and are) excitedly talking about Dalton Pompey. It seems as though everyone has an opinion of how the team should proceed this off season.
The season has been a true roller coaster, to say the least. There have been some huge ups. As well, there have been some deep downs. But, from what I can tell, more people are talking Blue Jays. More people are emotionally attached to the Blue Jays. More younger people are building a relationship with the team. Yes, there are those who appear to have nothing but rage. But, remember, rage is emotion. It is passion. Good or bad, the Toronto Blue Jays have infiltrated our homes, our minds and our hearts. That to me says SUCCESS.