Thursday, October 20, 2016

Well-dressed but

The binary notions of failure and success don’t feel appropriate for the 2016 Blue Jays. Not with all the baggage and narrative threads that weave their way through this season and into the future.

This season was a success because a distinctive, excellent team was three wins away from the World Series. The season was a failure because the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays weren’t designed, or expected, to finish short of anything.

Well-dressed, but walking
In the wrong direction

And yet, at no point in the year did they feel like the team to beat. But there was a sense of urgency among the fans, knowing that 2015’s offensive juggernaut was right there, straining to break free.

Instead of fireworks, strikeouts fueled fan frustration as the “take and rake” offense did a lot more taking than raking. Suffocating run prevention pushed the team into the postseason, holding up much more than its end of the bargain.

If 2015 was the night out in your twenties, when anything seems possible and every minute feels like a musical montage in some beer ad, 2016 felt a little more like the night out when everyone is in their thirties.

The sparks don’t fly as easily, and there’s a lot of waiting around, expecting the same magic to just...happen. Still fun, still memorable, but the spectre of what came before looms large.

The unforgettable end to the Blue Jays’ 2015 season filled in the blanks before 2016 could make its own statement, making for a summer-long odyssey that was an odd mix of swan song and audition - with a title pursuit trying not to become an afterthought.

Well, some of us are, that is
The ones who know how, that is

Baseball fans in 2016 don’t need (or want) to think about seasons in discrete chunks, as the season never needs to end. Teams move more in eras and epochs, and this all but marks the end of a Blue Jays era. From dark to light, from listless to insistent, everything changed overnight - and it won’t switch back.

I don’t want to get used to playoff games. I don’t want to look down my nose at a series win or a afternoon playoff games that completely derail work days. I don’t want to scroll through an Instagram feed full (full!) of ballpark shots as the stadium fills and feel blasé because it’s only the division series.

I don’t want to get used to it and I don’t want it to stop.

Well-dressed, but walking
I don't wanna go back

Hopefully I won’t have to. Josh Donaldson will be standing at third base in April, 2017, which is almost enough on its own. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna and Marco Estrada and JA Happ and Troy Tulowitzki will stand on the third base line while a planetary Canadian flag is unfurled in centre field.

One day, the team standing on that third base line will look up, towards the left field seats, and see the names of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista staring down at them.

The last two years - 15 months, really - are worth pausing over. Worth considering for what they were, what they weren’t, and what they ultimately delivered. These are signature moments that even World Series winners aren’t lucky enough to claim.

There are more indelible moments to come, I’m sure. But before rumour and innuendo rush to replace live-and-die playoff urgency in my baseball brain, I’ll think a lot about those moments and their authors. I’ll think of champagne showers untaken and parades unrouted but, mostly, I’ll be thankful for moments that will outlive us all. Not a bad trade, in the end.