There’s nothing unusual about loud and boisterous fans at a Major League Baseball game.
But it is unusual – if not unheard of – when loud and boisterous fans are overwhelmingly behind the visiting team to the point of outnumbering the hometown fans.
It happened again this year when the Toronto Blue Jays visited the Seattle Mariners in their annual West Coast series.
Call it a friendly Canadian takeover, as Safeco Field turns into Rogers Centre West!
You just have to close your eyes and you’d swear you were sitting in Rogers Centre hearing that familiar chant – Let’s Go Blue Jays Let’s Go! And when you open your eyes, before you is a sea of blue caps and jerseys, and a cascade of frowning Seattle faces.
Despite being the minority in their own stadium, Seattle fans are good sports about giving up their home field advantage. While the blue invasion is most visible at Safeco Field, you can see and feel the vibe on city streets and in shops, bars and hotels. It’s a blue tsunami that blankets the Emerald City.
And no big surprise. After all, there is no MLB team in Western Canada, so fans have fallen in love with Seattle and Safeco Field. It’s one of the best ballparks in North America with its retractable umbrella roof and open sides, so teams can still play baseball in an outdoor’s atmosphere, even in the rain.
Safeco Field can hold as many as 47,943 fans, but according to Fansided, “the Mariners who ranked 21st in attendance this season usually draw an average of 24,668 fans per game. However, the Mariners saw 120,135 fans come through the gates during the three-game series an average of 40,045 per game.” Two of the three games were sold out.
According to The Seattle Times, Jays fans filled about 70 per cent of the seating over the weekend. ”It’s a little shocking,” said Mariners Outfielder, Jarrod Dyson, “It was my first time and I didn’t realize it was going to be that bad. There was a lot of blue out there… It felt like a playoff game.”
Maybe not quite the playoffs, but certainly a critical series as the struggling Jays came away winning two games to one. And in part, they can thank those tens of thousands of pulsating Canadian fans for helping with the win.
It was awesome, every time Mariners fans tried to crank up the volume, the blue blitz just got louder and louder and louder. “It’s fun, man,” Jay’s Starting Pitcher, Marcus Stroman, told the Toronto Sun. “It feels weird having a road game that’s essentially a home game for us. I felt like I was back home at the Rogers Centre.”
And the fans come from far and wide to cheer on their Jays. John Drake and his friends drove 16 hours from Edmonton to catch the Jays in Seattle. “It’s a blast to see our Jays up close, not on TV, but in person. And I guess I am not alone, just look at the blue.”
Again, it’s no surprise that Canadian fans travel to great lengths. After all, the Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s team – the one and only. While most American teams draw the majority of their fans from their city or state, Jays fans embody a country. And the Jays have some of the most loyal fans in baseball, and so far this year, one of the best average home attendance record in the league at 38,408, according to Fansided.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad. Ticket gouging this year was off the charts. “Double the price was a little outrageous,” says Don Kelloway, a long time baseball fan who’s love of the game stretches back to Montreal’s Jarry Park when Canada’s first and only team was the Montreal Expos.
For Kelloway, the trip was a double play, a chance for a long distance motorcycle ride and a little pro ball with the boys. As Kelloway points out, “It kind of backfired on them because it would have kept some local fans and families away because of the price.”
Nothing illegal, but come on Mariners, it’s in bad taste. Hiking ticket prices moderately for storied clubs like the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox or the Chicago Cubs, is just part of the business of baseball. It’s called dynamic pricing and all teams do it. But charging double is just plain wrong!
And Beryl Hasting agrees. The Victoria resident has been going down to Seattle for the past 20 years to catch some games, but not this year. “It’s inappropriate that the Mariners almost doubled their ticket prices this year and then add to that the increase what resellers charge, we decided not to go.” Hasting says the Seattle business community should call foul.
But would Scott Servais and Mariners listen? Servais became the Mariners Manager last year and experienced the blue invasion up close for the first time. He told The Seattle Times, “Surprise? That would probably be a good way to put it. I think I mentioned it last year when we stood out for the national anthem and they played “O Canada.” I turned to Tim Bogar and said, “Oh, s$%^. Wow. There’s a lot of people here and they ain’t rooting for us.”
With such a Canadian thirst for the game, the question becomes, why not get the ball rolling by campaigning for an MLB team in Vancouver and level the playing field?
The timing could not be better for Greater Vancouver to play ball. MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, wants to see the league expanded from 30 teams to 32 in order to make scheduling easier.
But Manfred is in no hurry. Nothing is going to happen until Tampa Bay and Oakland decide if they are going to build new stadiums or say goodbye to their teams. We’ll probably not know the answers to that for a couple of years, nor the exact timing of the next expansion, which gives us time to ramp up a campaign on Canada’s West Coast.
In 2016, Fox Sports listed Vancouver as one of the most deserving cities for an MLB team. It put Vancouver in third spot, behind Montreal and Austin, Texas. It goes on to say that Vancouver is the “second largest market in Canada and the United States without a Major League Baseball team, second only to Montreal. Greater Vancouver has a population of approximately 2.3 million people and it puts it ahead of MLB cities such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City and Milwaukee.”
Baseball has not expanded since 1998, when Tampa Bay and Arizona were awarded franchises. The last time a team relocated was in 2005 when the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington.
Indeed, it looks like Montreal is well positioned to get a team in the next expansion. The Canadian Press reported in March that a source told it that “a group of Montreal investors has met the conditions laid out by Major League Baseball to get a team back in the city.”
It’s time to build on that momentum and keep pushing North. Three Canadian teams, two in the East and one in the West. But two new Canadian teams in the same expansion cycle? Tough slug? Maybe not.
Let’s say Tampa Bay decides not to build a new stadium, the Rays move to Montreal. And if Oakland can’t get on base with a new stadium, why not move to Vancouver? Or Oakland moves to Austin and Vancouver gets one of the two new franchises. Still room for one more American team. I am just saying, there is potentially four plays at hand.
Greater Vancouver is a solid sports town with major league hockey, football, and soccer, along with popular minor leagues in tow. In fact, the Vancouver Canadians draws good numbers to watch the Jay’s affiliate in the Northwest League at Nat Bailey Field.
“It would be neat to see Major League Baseball in Vancouver,” says Kelloway. “The lower mainland is a ground swell producing some of the best young players in the game. It would make sense, but it’s a long shot.”
Okay, a long shot at best. But if you build it, they will come!
Here’s why. If you can get 20,000 Canadian fans, mostly from Western Canada and primarily from the lower mainland, to a game in Seattle, then an average of 30,000 plus attendance in Vancouver is quite feasible. And that is well over the current average attendance in Seattle. Pretty solid place to start!
But there are two wildcards at play: Is MLB willing to put a team in Western Canada, and how does Vancouver pay for a new stadium? So early days need to give way to forming a business team to figure out the financing and the messaging to win over the League.
Could you imagine a back to back series between an MLB team in Vancouver and the Seattle Mariners with only 225 kilometres separating the two clubs. Peace Arch would likely be a revolving road of blue and green as fans flock across the border – creating a more level playing field.
Right now we have a one way road to Seattle that has a huge toll on it. We need two way traffic in Western Canada, so that when Monday morning comes around, Jays fans are not doing its annual ritual of handing back the city to the good citizens of Seattle – like we did on a recent morning in June.”