Blue Jays: Don’t tell me this team plays in a small market

CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 08: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Progressive Field on July 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 08: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Progressive Field on July 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

You’ll often hear about the difficulty of being in the same division as the “big market” Red Sox and Yankees, but that’s no excuse for the Blue Jays.

One of the most memorable baseball phrases from my childhood was, “if you build it, they will come”, which was from a famous scene in “Field Of Dreams”, one of the greatest movies of all-time, if you’re asking me.

That same phrase has been tossed around in regards to the Toronto Blue Jays over the years, often when it comes to investing in the roster. However, the philosophy has occasionally been reversed around this team, with more of an idea that ownership would invest more money in a winning product, and one that was consistently drawing fans to the ballpark.

It’s a topic that has been a frequent source of frustration for Blue Jays fans over the years, even while the team ran record payroll numbers during their playoff push a couple of years ago. There has always been the feeling that the Blue Jays couldn’t keep up with the deep-pocketed division rivals like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but that’s more of a case of they haven’t rather than they can’t.

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Right now would not be that time anyway, but there’s proof that the Blue Jays can and should start spending when the time is right, whether that’s handing out some early long-term contracts to some of their young talent, or supplementing the roster as needed once they get closer to being a realistic playoff contender sometime in the next few years.

That proof was on full display in 2015 and 2016 when the Rogers Centre was routinely packed, and they even lead the American League with more than 3.2 million fans through the gates in 2016. It was also blatantly obvious as Toronto and the entire country caught basketball fever last month when the Toronto Raptors brought the first NBA championship north of the border.

You could make the argument that Canadian sports fans just proved it again over the All-Star break, especially when it came to watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the home run derby. The 20-year-old phenom broke the single-round record of 29 home runs in the first round, equalled that total in the second, and now holds the competition record of 91 (!), despite losing in the finals to Pete Alonso of the Mets.

According to a tweet from Ben Nicholson-Smith yesterday, there were more than 2.6 million Canadian fans that tuned to watch the derby, and Guerrero Jr’s hype may have just been re-ignited, as he also gained 62,000 followers on his Instagram account. Granted this was a special event and Guerrero Jr. brings a lot of attention, but that’s a boat load of people and I can’t help but wonder if the Blue Jays’ front office and ownership have taken any particular notice. I’m not niave enough to think that they missed those numbers somehow, but the question is whether or not that will encourage a difference in thinking at all.

Canadian sports fans have shown that they’ll support a winner in spades, and Toronto is a city that can breed overnight fanatics in a heartbeat (in the good way). I have to also give a hat tip to @Bluejaysbatboy, who tweeted that the Blue Jays could easily have the biggest market in baseball under the right circumstances. That kind of statement might make Yankee fans scoff in derision, but there is some truth in there.

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Going back to the idea of “if you build it, they will come”, the Blue Jays’ ownership was just reminded again of how big this market can be under the right circumstances. They’re rebuilding their roster right now, and I understand the temporary payroll restraint as these young players gain experience. However, when the time comes to invest in the payroll again, I don’t want to hear anything about competiting with the market size of the Yankees or Red Sox. In fact, let’s bring back the Expos while we’re at it.