As the Toronto Blue Jays clinched their first American League East title since Mrs. Doubtfire ruled the box office on Wednesday night, we saw a roster of young and old, familiar and surreal, come together in a long-deserved celebration. Well, most of us did.
In the never-ending world of Blue Jays hot takes, not even the most important moment in two decades is safe from ridicule. The optimistic outlook of “We’re not done yet!” was countered with “They haven’t…done…anything yet”, and while that sentiment came from many directions, it’s best embodied in Cathal Kelly’s piece this morning for the Globe and Mail, entitled “Don’t confuse a great regular season run with having won anything.” With all due respect, I will.
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“Between the goggles and GoPros and champagne hose jobs, these guys didn’t look like they’d won the division. They looked like they’d all just gotten out of jail,” Kelly writes. He doesn’t seem enthralled with Munenori Kawasaki enjoying the festivities as he did, either. “He seemed a thimbleful away from needing to be taken out on a stretcher. This is the second time in five days that Kawasaki has been the hit of a Jays clubhouse party. The guy had four hits. For the year.”
Good for Munenori Kawasaki. Those were four glorious hits, and despite my 22-year hit total of zero, I celebrated wholeheartedly. As we all should have. The Blue Jays won the A.L. East. The pennant. And we have no business acting like we’re above the pennant.
Despite many opportunities to stray from the path during a slow start with limited pitching resources, the Jays remained focused and driven. High when they’d earned it, but not too low when they hadn’t. While I saw the end of a long journey on Wednesday night being celebrated like many MLB clubhouses do each year, Kelly saw something different. “You’ve just started getting the creeping sense this team has been reading its own press.”
“As Wednesday night’s party stretched on and on, you began to cringe. You’re already imagining how silly it will seem in a couple of weeks’ time if things go wrong.”
Don’t enjoy success now, because you just might fail later. This logic is entirely backwards, from my point of view. Enjoy the success now because failure lurks around every corner in baseball. In terms of probability, the average MLB team will will win the World Series once every 30 years. Anything below that number is an above-average success rate.
With this line of thinking, we also make a mistake in how we value the regular season. Yes, the playoff results are all that truly matter from a historical context, but a 162-game regular season must be given some weight. Across all major North American sports, the strange reality is that the best team does not always win the championship. It’s the team that is hot at the right time, something often swayed by luck and chance in a condensed playoff format.
Playing 162 games of baseball is gruelling, both mentally and physically. Taking the AL East pennant out of that six-month battle is not on par with ALDS, ALCS or World Series victories, but I’ll proudly confuse it for winning “anything”.
Lastly, I generally disagree with how the game of baseball is being treated in all of this. We’re constantly bombarded with the unwritten rules, playing the game the right way and respecting the game. I believe that the Blue Jays have represented those ideas well enough throughout 2015, and I believe in those values myself. Up to a point.
The game of baseball is not hydrogen, oxygen, carbon or nitrogen. It is not water, it is not food. It is not a game that existed before mankind, nor is it something that will exist beyond us. It is a game, made up of rules, tools, shapes and lines to help pass the time in a way that is more enriching and enjoyable. One of the greatest games to ever be played, one that I love in the truest sense of the word, but at its heart, baseball is no more than that. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget to treat it as such.
Despite the Blue Jays celebrating their hard-earned and long-awaited success on Wednesday, and despite their enjoyment and elation, the world continues to spin as smoothly as it had the day before. Perhaps its a side effect of the Toronto sports scene in recent years, but this is a moment to ignore the possibility of a losing future and focus on the reality of a winning ‘now’. A time to focus on the ‘wow’.
There exists a real possibility that the Blue Jays bring a parade to Toronto later this month. There also exists a possibility that they run into hot pitching in a week and end their season early. Baseball giveth, and baseball taketh away. Regardless of how long this dream lasts, though, the Blue Jays have the pennant. It’s not everything, but it’s far, far from nothing.
So enjoy what the coming weeks of baseball, the game of baseball, hold in store. The last 22 years have not only been a lesson on the value of the playoffs, but also their great rarity. Celebrate every opportunity you get, times like these don’t come around as often as you wish.