Blue Jays swagger, diversity gaining league-wide attention

The Toronto Blue Jays play with a rare swagger for the MLB level, whatever that word means this week. One which is allowed by their nightly highlight reel and kaleidoscopic personalities. Baseball traditionalists have turned their nose up at the bat-flips and stare-downs we see weekly from Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays, but in a slow-moving sport of hat-tips and unwritten rules, the Jays are living outside the lines.

ESPN’s Ryan Cortes examined this in a recent article entitled “The Toronto Blue Jays are everything baseball ain’t”. I’ll call it an “interesting” read, and let you go from there.  “They have speed and swag. If you aim a pitch at a player’s head, expect a lingering scowl. Then a home run. And definitely some fighting words. They are the most interesting, compelling and unique team in baseball,” Cortes insists from the top. 

Cortes’ intention with the article, however, is to highlight the diversity of Toronto’s roster, which is rich with African American and Latino players. The Jays have long held a strong connection to the Dominican area and fielded diverse rosters, so I find it very odd to veil this under a discussion of “swagger” in 2015 instead of addressing the topic directly, which could be done in book-length form. Especially when it appears to be an absolute carbon-copy of the Kansas City Royals “bad boys” articles that we’ve seen dozens of over the past year.

Cortes continues, “Egghead traditionalists still talk about “playing the game the white right way.” Many players of color grow up dancing and laughing on the field, but when their talent and dedication propels them to the highest level, their flavor can be viewed as disrespectful or worthy of a fastball to the face.” I know my place to speak, but I also know that my place has boundaries that I should respect, so I’ll leave much of this to your own personal interpretation.

Instead of diving into specific African American or Latino cultures from different points on the globe, I will look at this in terms of a more general “cultural difference” from the “white North American audience” standpoint, simply because that seems to be the dynamic that Cortes is working with here. Perhaps we saw this cultural difference at play with Jose Reyes during his time with the Blue Jays.

Jun 19, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (7) and right fielder Jose Bautista (19) celebrate a win over the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. Toronto defeated Baltimore 5-4. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Reyes drew the ire of fans and media members for his play on the field, but I’ve long believed that his exuberant personality fueled that. Ten minutes after making an error on a routine ground ball to shortstop, Reyes would be seen laughing in the dugout or enjoying a conversation with an opposing player. This irritated fans. Why was Reyes not deep in melancholy?

That’s because for Reyes, baseball is a game. A source of enjoyment, and as part of his individual culture and personality, that’s something he expresses. That does not make something wrong or right, just different. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing with the Blue Jays and how they are viewed around baseball.

What Cortes describes as “The unapologetic, wrestling-character feel to this year’s team” has not sat well with baseball purists. Being part of a younger generation of baseball fans, I recognize that the old ways of baseball will simply not draw a new audience. Viewers 30-and-under crave the flair for the dramatic, they need the bat-flip Vine video and the stare-down .gif to fill their Twitter feed. Again, this isn’t a better or worse generation of fans, just a different one.

The collective attitude of the Jays has grabbed that demographic, but also transcended the diverse race and age demographics in the city of Toronto. A fan base sees themselves in this roster, and sees a group of players that care about wins and losses with the same passion they do. Finally.

There’s no need to cover the discussion with half-defined terms, tangential points and bad jokes. This club does not need to be labeled with non-baseball terms to help an MLB audience wrap their heads around a 30th MLB team. The Blue Jays are the Blue Jays, diverse and determined, and that’s going just fine.

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