Playoffs in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, the world hockey championship and the announcement of World Cup rosters have all garnered headlines in sports sections across the country.
But one piece of news was sure to rankle Canadian sports fans more than the rest – Roy Halladay’s return to the Rogers Centre in late June has been relocated to Philadelphia.
The series was supposed to be a homecoming for the former Jay who is now anchoring the Phillies' rotation.
However, because of a security perimeter set up around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the G-20 Summit, Halladay won’t be returning to his old stomping grounds until at least 2011. That is when the Jays and Phillies will next face each other in inter-league play.
Although this year’s series will now be held in Citizens Bank Park, the Blue Jays will still be the home team of record, with the American League’s designated hitter rule in effect and Toronto still getting to hit at the bottom of the inning.
“We would have been bringing people down into an area where people aren’t being asked to come to,” said Blue Jays president and chief operating officer Paul Beeston.
Although safety concerns should be a primary concern of the Toronto franchise’s front office, they could have handled this situation better.
After all, American League rules won’t protect the Blue Jays from Philadelphia’s notoriously obnoxious hecklers. Having the last at bats of the game won’t mitigate the fatigue of travel. It really isn’t an ideal alternative.
The Phillies will also be seeing some kind of profit margin from this change of scenery. Although Beeston insists the endeavour will probably be revenue neutral, I find it hard to believe that the Jays wouldn’t have benefited from a temporary boost in attendance figures.
It would also have been cathartic for a beleaguered Toronto fan base that is still reeling from the loss of Halladay, arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
A better idea would’ve been to put the series at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It would still be some distance for Toronto fans to travel, but it would also have been a long drive for the Phillies and their supporters.
Pirates fans would be just as likely to root against their Pennsylvanian rivals as they would be to boo the Blue Jays, so it would eliminate Philadelphia’s home-field fan advantage.
Another logical choice would have been Coca Cola Field, home of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Even closer to Toronto than Pittsburgh, the park has a capacity of 18,025. That’s not up to Major League Baseball’s usual standards, but it would definitely be big enough to hold Toronto’s average crowd of 15,207.
Again, the New York state crowd would be just as apt to heckle the Phillies as they would the Blue Jays.
The move to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park is yet another failure by the Toronto Blue Jays front office to show any kind of respect for its fan base. They could have done better. Done more than just shrug and brush off any concerns at a press conference.
Moving from the Rogers Centre for the duration of the G-20 summit was necessary, but it seems like they put little thought into viable alternatives. Beeston and company have mishandled the situation and done their supporters a disservice.
Although solid on the field, they have had some trouble off of it. In particular, the headlines have focused on their attendance figures dwindling to all-time lows at the Rogers Centre.
I’ve now been to four home games, with last night’s 13-12 loss to the Boston Red Sox being the most-recent, and it’s pretty grim in the former-SkyDome.
The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair reported from the game that: “Adam Lind, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay all had three hits for the Blue Jays in front of a mostly uninterested crowd of 13,847.”
I don’t really agree with Blair’s assessment that the crowd was “uninterested”, but I do think that the numbers at Jays games are a going concern.
After all, that crowd of nearly 14,000 fans was the fifth largest take for the Jays this season, behind only opening night (46,321) and any of the three games against the Los Angeles Angels two weekends ago.
The Rogers Centre is averaging 16,032 fans per game this season, worst in Major League Baseball. Although it is worth noting that the Jays are drawing only one fan less than the Cleveland Indians.
Still, this is a significant drop from 2009’s average of 23,162 per game, 22nd in the league.
There’s been a lot of speculation as to why this might be, including the accusation that Canadians are uninterested in baseball. These theories may or may not be true.
Personally, I think it can be summed up in one name: Roy Halladay.
It’s not just that the ace pitcher gave the Blue Jays a nearly-guaranteed win every time he pitched. It wasn’t all about the hypnotically rhythmic pace Halladay keeps. It’s not just that he was arguably the most popular player on the team - although all that is true.
No, it’s because Halladay’s departure signalled to the Toronto fan base that the Jays’ management just didn’t care anymore. It was as plain as raising a white flag of surrender. The Blue Jays management was going to scrap much of the team and get little in return.
The way J.P. Riccardi botched the contract negotiations with Halladay was particularly galling. When he tried to play the media into scape-goating Halladay, it just added insult to injury.
This, coupled with the departures of solid players like Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas, has deflated interest in the Blue Jays and alienated their customers.
Winning can cure all attendance woes, but the Blue Jays need to reassure their fans that the franchise is putting its best foot forward and trying to stay competitive. The loss of Halladay, Scutaro and Barajas ruined that image and it will take general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the suits at the Rogers Centre a long time to recover from this past off-season.