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Where in Toronto: Ghosts of Seasons Past

Jose Bautista leads the Jays into a hopeful new season (photo courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays)

Ever since Toronto Blue Jays star Jose Bautista graced the cover of Where Toronto’s April issue, it seems as though I’ve been seeing the team everywhere. No—I wish I’d been running into the likes of Adam Lind and Ricky Romero around town; I mean that I’ve started noticing Jays hats, sweatshirts, merchandise in the windows of every sporting-goods store, and, of course, even an entire section dedicated to the Jays in Sears at the Eaton Centre. It might be that I’m just beginning to take notice of our hometown team, or maybe it’s just Toronto getting into the spring swing of things.

The sports culture in this city can be quite something. To say the fans are die-hard would be an understatement. Whether it’s baseball, basketball, hockey or soccer, we love our hometown teams (even if they haven’t been particularly good over the past number of years). In winter, getting home on Maple Leafs game nights was a mission for me. After my night classes, I’d get to the Union Station GO terminal to find fans flooding out of the Air Canada Centre; I’d have to weave through hoards of blue-and-white-clad fans just to catch my bus. I  remember thinking, they barely ever win, so why is everyone still coming out to the games?

I’m not really a hockey person, so it wasn’t until I attended a game myself that I understood why fans keep coming back. I guess watching any sport—not just hockey—in a live setting has a special charm. The atmosphere was electric. Strangers became friends. And with the girl sitting behind me slamming her fist into her hand and screaming “punch ‘im in the face” every so often, I knew emotions ran high. Even with their less-than-impressive season (or seasons, rather) it’s clear that Leafs’ fans have an unwavering love for their storied squad.

The Raptors draw basketball fans to the Air Canada Centre (photo by Craig Moy)

Basketball is more my thing. I’m a Celtics fan, but I can’t help but cheer for the Toronto Raptors, too, regardless of their mediocre record. I’m one of those people who clings to the hope of victory until the final buzzer sounds. Ten seconds left? Of course they can still make it! It’s something about Toronto sports teams. You love them by default. Unfortunately, like their ice-bound brethren, the Raptors won’t be making the playoffs either, but at least Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan and company have shown improvement under coach Dwane Casey. With a savvy trade or free agent signing, plus the addition of highly touted centre Jonas Valanciunas, the team looks primed for a stronger showing next season.

Having bid adieu to the NHL and NBA (almost) for another year, the city is a-chirp over Major League Baseball and the Blue Jays. Though the team hasn’t been hugely successful in the recent past, things are looking more optimistic for 2012. Avid fans donned the brand new Blue Jays logo in anticipation of the sold-out home opener at the Rogers Centre on Monday. The outcome wasn’t ideal—a blown save led to a 4–2 loss to the Boston Red Sox—but that was just a small bump in the road; the Jays bounced back with a 7–3 victory the following day.

It’s comforting to know that there’s hope for at least one Toronto squad, that our support is actually worthwhile, and that in some small way that support might spur the players on to greater glory. That said, whatever the results, come next season the city’s fans will again be out in full force to take in the excitement and drama of professional sports, regardless of whether the home team wins or loses.

—Faiza Siddiqui

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