On April 2, 1997, my crew and I hit the second game of the Jays season at the then-SkyDome. We avoided the opener the night before because we knew off-season acquisition Roger Clemens wouldn’t be starting. With all due respect to Pat Hentgen, we wanted to see the Rocket. Attendance that night was 31,310 — almost 10,000 less than opening night. Clemens pitched a gem, en route to a Cy Young season. But what I noticed most that night was the shortage of fans.
Thirteen years later, 31,000 would be a huge crowd at the Rogers Centre. Going into Thursday’s game against Oakland, the Jays were averaging about half that per game at home. The drop in attendance is nothing new — it hasn’t been the same since the Joe Carter home run.
This year, however, it has taken on an alarming tone, considering a historical big draw like Boston couldn’t bring in more than 16,000 per game recently.
But while some claim the sky is falling, I’m still of the clichéd belief that if a team wins (over the course of a season, not two months), fans will show up. The problem is, the Jays can’t win. They can’t contend in the AL East, and hoping for a fluke one-off like the 2008 Rays won’t instil much fan commitment. They are stuck in a cavernous stadium that was state-of-the-art for 15 minutes, and was later purchased for fruit rind by their parent company. As long as Rogers wants to invest in this Bills thing, there won’t be any baseball-friendly renos either.
And this year, the Jays traded away the greatest pitcher in franchise history for unproven players. Was anybody really expecting sellouts every night?
In my perfect world, they’d build a privately-financed ballpark across Polson Street from the Docks and the team would move to the AL Central. In my perfect world, I would also be a ninja fighter pilot. Face it: Toronto is a lousy sports town. After the Leafs, we are splintered into groups.
Could the Jays be sold and moved? To where? Vegas? Charlotte? Options aren’t plentiful and those that exist aren’t necessarily ideal markets for Major League Baseball. Toronto is not the only city with this issue. How’d you like to be a Royals fan?
– John Chick is a copy editor at Metro and veteran sports journalist.