It was a rough day at the yard. R.A. Dickey had none of his usual mystifying stuff, instead allowing five earned runs before the first Red Sox out. (I can imagine some jovial Jays fans walked in with their beers in the middle of the first inning, laughed at the scoreboard error, and then realized with horror what was actually happening.) Dickey ended up lasting 4.2 innings, surrendering eight runs (seven earned) on 10 hits and a pair of walks. He struck out five. Lester, on the other hand, gave up only five hits while striking out six, and neither he nor Clayton Mortensen gave up a run. The Blue Jays didn’t put up much of a fight in trying to bail out their starter, and the crowd started chanting “Go Leafs Go” in late innings … it was a mess.
I’ve seen some people contemplate whether the humidity and stuffiness of a closed dome with upwards of 40,000 people in it affected Dickey’s knuckleball. Word on the street is the knuckler moves more in warm and humid environments, but I’m not sure if that includes a closed dome, where the air circulation is pretty terrible. Whatever it was, Dickey sure didn’t have it yesterday and got knocked around in what ended up being a pretty ugly afternoon.
After the game, the internet was ripe with accusations and shouting from plenty of people who apparently have forgotten how sports work. On one side we have the “this is a catastrophe” fan base, and on the other the whiners crying about “bandwagon fans,” neither of whom are doing a particularly great job convincing me they’re right.
We’re six games into a 162-game regular season; if less than five percent of the season is indicative of total catastrophe, then I’d be happy to take your seat at the ballpark until the fall. Baseball comes with tremendous ups and downs, and even the best teams get blown out sometimes. It’s wise to temper our expectations, but certainly not to the point of giving up—especially now. Every game is a tiny fraction of the whole season, and you don’t really see any kind of trend for a long, long stretch.
This business about “bandwagon fans,” though, bothers me at least as much. It’s been addressed much better by Stacey May Fowles for The Barnstormer (with a stronger focus on gendered sports fandom) but truly, this exclusivity—this assertion that some people at the ballpark have more of a right to enjoy the spectacle than others, or that they have a stronger claim—is ridiculous. Seeing a team through the highest highs and the lowest lows is absolutely worth talking about, and as many of us who have done that will know, it makes you fiercely loyal. But I don’t support the disdain for bandwagon jumpers a single bit, even the obnoxious ones who are crying apocalypse over the 2-4 homestand (though I will, obviously, try to reason through that). The expectations and hype for the Jays this season are high—of course it breeds interest in casual fans. Casual fans are necessary. They buy tickets and fill the park and pay for cable packages just as we do, but if you do things right, they come in even larger numbers. And if given the chance, instead of driven away from the ballpark by sneering snobs, many will become diehard, loyal, knowledgeable fans. And if they do not, what’s it to you?
No, I’ll never rail against bandwagon jumpers. I pick teams to enjoy rooting for in the playoffs, with no actual commitment, because emotional investment is what makes sports so exciting for me. I’ve been a Blue Jays fan for less than three years (Jose Bautista’s breakout season happened before I started watching) so to a great many, I am part of the bandwagon, even though I attended over 30 games last season. I don’t want anyone to have to prove themselves when they go to a game; I want to talk to them about how great Jose Reyes was when he hit that triple.
Bring me the loud, shouting fans, because that means a Tuesday night game might have 35,000 fans instead of 13,000. Bring me the confused questions in the stands, because maybe we’ll be able to answer them. Bring me the R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes jerseys bought by people who haven’t gone to a baseball game in twenty years. If you’re giving up on the team early, I can’t help you. But if you’re here for the long haul even though you’ve got nothing to go on, if you are one of them and you get shouted down, don’t worry—there’s space on the wagon next to me.