Take Me To The Nosebleeds

Full disclosure: I’m a huge baseball fan. Specifically, I’m a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan. I grew up watching the team and caught their back-to-back World Series wins at the impressionable ages of 8 and 9. Maybe that’s why hockey never took hold of me the way baseball did. I’ve always followed the Jays and the sport very closely. That’s why I like to think of myself as a pretty reasonable fan. I know there are ups and downs in every season. I know a game doesn’t end when your team falls behind in the 5th inning. I know that with a 162 game season, eve the best players and teams waver and struggle. So I feel like I can fairly say that last night, sitting in great seats in the 100 level at SkyDome, I was surrounded by the worst fans our city has to offer.

SkyDome

I should start by saying that I have season tickets, but my seat is up in the 500s. The nosebleeds. That’s where I watch the majority of the 20+ games I go to every season. I got a seat in the 100s last night thanks to my girlfriend’s parents, and it was one of the best views I’ve ever had at a Jays game. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure any of the people sitting around us were enjoying themselves. It actually seemed like they were angry that they were even there.

Up in the 500s, people tend to enjoy themselves. Sure, there are people who are paying more attention to their beer than the game. But they cheer when the Jays score. They cheer when the Jays are in a jam and the pitcher’s trying to get out of it. They may have only paid $15 for their ticket, but they want the team to win. Or maybe they just don’t really care. Maybe they just want to have a good time and that’s why they cheer. I really don’t know.

What I do know is that the people sitting down in the 100s last night wanted to be angry. They wanted the Jays to lose. Because only then would all their negative thoughts about the team and this season be confirmed and they can go around declaring their “I told you so”s. Early in the game, I heard numerous people cursing R.A. Dickey, the Jays’ starting pitcher, as he struggled to not pitch a perfect game. Even more people were bemoaning the fact that Jose Reyes, newly returned from the disabled list, didn’t get a hit every at bat. One sterling gentleman in front of us went so far as to call Reyes a “stupid fucking Puerto Rican” when he went hitless in his first two at bats. Reyes is Dominican.

But it was more than the baseless, racially-fuelled criticism of Reyes (a four-time All Star) that bothered me. It was the fact that none of the fans, if you can call them that, sitting around us seemed to want to enjoy themselves. Last night’s game was a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair. Which to most fans, means it’s a really exciting game. But when the Jays took the lead, I’d hear things like “this won’t last long.” When the Jays were behind in the 4th inning, I heard someone say “I told you they were going to lose.” The 4th inning! We weren’t even halfway through the game and the team had already been written off by its alleged supporters.

As is often the case in sports, the lead kept changing between teams. The Jays were ahead and then they were behind. By the 8th inning, it was no longer just Reyes that was, to use that same gentleman’s words, “a piece of shit,” it was every Jays player that failed to hit a five-run home run in every at bat. With the team was down by a score of 9-7 at the end of the 8th, the game and season was widely being decreed to be over. Many of the people seated around us left the game disgusted yet exalted by confirmation of their eternally negative mind.

Then, in the bottom of the 9th, this happened:

The Jays won thanks to a walk off hit from their best player Josh Donaldson. But it was also thanks to a key hit from Jose Reyes. Now the meatheads loved him, at least until the last player had crossed the plate. Then I heard “the Jays didn’t deserve to win that one.” They couldn’t even enjoy a win.

The way I see it, if you feel that way about the Jays and you’ve got tickets in the 100s, you don’t deserve to sit there. Paying $60 for a ticket might make you feel entitled to complain and boo the team you’re supposed to be cheering, but it doesn’t make it right. It just makes you a jackass The Jays and their players are not immune to criticism but aren’t you there to enjoy the game? I know I am. I actually want the team to win. And I’d rather sit with people who feel the same way.

Enjoy your field level views with the clueless commentary. I’ll be in the 500s.

Hockey’s losing me or: How I gave up my Canadian passport

I was raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. So it goes without saying that I grew up watching hockey as a Maple Leafs fan. When you’re from Toronto, you’re a Leafs fan. It’s as simple as that. (Except for those weirdos who root for the Habs.) So what I’m about to say is about as sacrilegious as a non-religious person can get: I’m pretty close to being done with hockey.

The first response to that is something like “a true hockey fan never loses their passion.” And that might be true. Maybe I’m not a true fan. All I know is that I watched every Leafs game from the age of 14 to about 25 or 26. Since then, the number of games I watch has been dropping with each passing season. A big part of that is that the Leafs are not a good hockey team and haven’t been for a long time. I’ve never bought in to their winning streaks or making the playoffs in a lockout-shortened season as signs that they’re a team a couple pieces away from contention. They are a team that is deeply flawed from the roster through to the front office on to the ownership. They aren’t close to being a good team. But that’s not the only reason why they’re losing me.

Hockey is still one of the most entertaining sports to watch, if not the most. And I say that as a huge baseball fan, one that knows watching baseball is pretty damn boring for most people. Hockey is easy to enjoy. So lately I keep asking myself why I can’t bring myself to sit through an entire game.

My interest in hockey has been in a gradual but steady decline. It started with the 2004-2005 lockout. Going a whole season without NHL hockey showed me I could live without it. The 2012-2013 lockout confirmed it. Two lockouts in less than 10 years makes it easy to grow tired of all the bullshit that come with any professional sport. For the record, I think the players were right for wanting more. I don’t blame them. I blame the owners. I blame Gary Bettman. And his stupid face.

221840-gary-bettman

But it’s not just him. It is the Leafs. It is nearly 50 years without a Stanley Cup and only a few legitimate shots at one within my lifetime. And it is the seeming indifference from the new ownership to create any sort of sensible plan to do anything about that.

You can’t really blame them. Seats in the ACC get filled no matter how bad the team is, how directionless they are, how lost they are. When Rogers and Bell bought the Leafs, they knew they were getting a property with a virtually guaranteed profit. They weren’t buying the team to make it better, they were buying it to make more money. If the team happens to win, it just means Rogers and Bell will make even more money.

They didn’t want to buy the Leafs, they wanted to buy the Canadian pastime. They want Rogers to be forever intertwined with hockey. That’s why they bought Hockey Night In Canada. That’s why they have exclusive hockey video apps with never before seen camera angles only available to Rogers customers. I mean, are you really a true hockey fan if you’re not a Rogers customer?

That’s where it seems like they’re headed, at least. And it makes it hard to watch HNIC now. The whole show feels like it’s just a vessel for shilling Rogers garbage. But it’s not just the Rogers apps, programs and services. It’s the hosts they brought over. Any sports program that has Damien Cox and Nick Kypreos as insiders is one I don’t want to watch. Plus, they kept Glenn “describing a professional hockey player as competitive is as in depth as my analysis gets” Healy.

It’s the same with the Leafs. I think there’s an argument to made that hiring Brendan Shanahan as team president is less about improving the team and more about showing Rogers’ connection to hockey. If he helps the Leafs win a Cup, even better. It’s an opportunity for exclusive downloadable content of video from the winner’s dressing room only available through Rogers.

With both the Leafs and with HNIC, there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the decisions other than “We’re Rogers and we can do whatever we want and you will like it.” I don’t feel like I’m watching a hockey game anymore, I feel like I’m watching hockey on Rogers brought to you by Rogers sponsored by Rogers.

Maybe I’m letting token corporate ownership get to me. Maybe a real fan wouldn’t let ultimately meaningless stuff like this interfere with their love of the game. Maybe I’m too jaded and pessimistic from watching my favourite hockey team never win anything. Maybe I should just shut up and watch the game. Or maybe losing interest in hockey is what being a Leafs fan is all about.