Hope is a superfluous concept for Toronto sports fans, as we tend to rarely see the forest through the trees. Each year we resemble the patrons in Ernest Thayer’s famous baseball poem “Casey at the Bat”, in that we expect failure, yet we still let ourselves become enraptured by false hope. Flawed free agent signings turn into parade planning fodder, winning streaks signal the birth of a dynasty, and mediocre draft picks are labeled as prodigious talents with ease. It’s just in our nature to overreact to mediocrity, because frankly it’s been ages since we’ve had anything worth cheering for.
As The Globe and Mail's Stephen Brunt adeptly pointed out in a segment featured before the Blue Jays’ triumphant home opener, Toronto is a sporting city that has not had its fandom rewarded since the early-nineties; yet we still hold onto those memories like grim death. And it’s in that nostalgia that we lose focus on the failures of the present. In the hope for a return to the glory days, we have overvalued nearly every athlete or executive that has called our fair city home. And that’s not fair to them, or us.
Perspective has been difficult to achieve for a reason that’s fairly clear: as a city well versed in failure, any moderate success will be magnified. “You mean the Raptors weren’t eliminated from the playoff race until after the All Star break? Well gosh, what a marked improvement!” It’s in this mindset that we’ve let many meaningless last-minute playoff pushes lead us astray from the ultimate goal for the city’s sporting franchises: sustainable winning seasons.
For all these reasons, anyone of a particularly strong faith would be justified in labeling Toronto as sporting limbo, because we’ve sat back and watched as over a decade’s worth of teams simply treaded water with no end or goal in sight. That’s what makes 2011 so foreign. Because, at the risk of drinking the Kool-Aid once again, it appears that perhaps there truly is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs will likely both miss the playoffs this year. And while that’s neither a new development, nor earth-shattering news, they carry with them a hope for tomorrow unseen since the glory days of those aforementioned early-nineties. The Maple Leafs, currently on an astounding late season tear, simply refuse to lose. And as the youngest team in the league, with a multitude of promising young players, and 20+ million dollars in cap room this offseason, it appears that General Manager Brian Burke has finally torn down MLSE’s iron curtain of ineptitude.
Off the ice and on the diamond, that future is even brighter. With a successful opening weekend under their belt – and one that drew over 100,000 fans to the SkyDome – hope is actually springing eternal on Blue Jay Way. With one of the best farm systems in the big leagues, a litany of young MLB-ready talent, and a bright young mind at the helm in Alex Anthopoulos, even the daunting task of life within the AL East has not crushed the spirits of baseball purists who see the vast potential for this team. Which isn’t to say that recent squads have been lousy, after all the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series with less wins than a Blue Jays team outside of the playoff picture, but the sheer amount of youth involved on this year's team makes it easy to dream of something more.
So it’s with this renewed, albeit cautious optimism, that we move forward; a direction we haven’t taken in quite some time. Knowing our luck, or lack thereof, this bandwagon is likely to break down by the side of the road early on in the journey. But for once, just maybe, there will be joy in Mudville. And if not, so be it. At least for a change we have something actually worth believing in.