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Blue Jays fever spreads from coast to coast

Blue Jays fever spreads from coast to coast

Posted by PanamericanWorld on August 14, 2015

What sport is shaping Canadian travel plans, filling the nation's sports bars and stirring national pride from coast to coast?

If you said hockey, you'd be wrong.

Baseball, courtesy of the red-hot Toronto Blue Jays, has gone from America's pastime to Canada's current sports obsession.

The country's sole major league team is galvanizing support and generating buzz not seen in the 22 years since Joe Carter's famous three-run homer brought the Jays its second consecutive World Series title.

The decline following those heady days was steep, with once sold-out crowds thinning dramatically and chatter about the Jays' playoff chances fading to a whisper.

But the combination of league-leading offence, top-notch pitching, blockbuster trades and an 11-game winning streak that's put the team atop its division has helped revive interest far beyond Toronto's boundaries.

Television ratings are sky high -- the Jays have had more than one million viewers on Sportsnet in each of the past seven games, according to Marketing magazine, after only four in the previous 109 games this season.

They've averaged 1.19 million viewers since the trade deadline.

After-market ticket sales are also a hot commodity. Nosebleed seats to Friday's game against the New York Yankees cost $13 two weeks ago. That same ticket now averages $56 on the resale market -- a 430 per cent increase.

Kelly Locken is travelling from Fort McMurray, Alta., to watch his favourite team square off against their chief rivals, the Yankees, on home turf this weekend.

The 38-year-old said he's been a Jays devotee since the late '80s, and has found himself nearly alone in his team allegiance most of the time.

Recently, however, that's changed.

"I've got all the jerseys and wear them to work. You'd get somebody once every month or so asking: 'What's going on with the Blue Jays?"' said Locken. "Now, every time you wear something, it's: 'Hey, those Blue Jays are doing great!"'

His coworkers aren't alone in talking about the team.

Social media has been abuzz with Blue Jays posts, and much of the chatter is coming from some unlikely quarters.

New fans are tweeting their excitement about the team from locations as far afield as Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and Nunavut.

Instagram posts show also show interest from coast to coast. One recent photo depicts a fan from Wolfeville, N.S., taking in a game at the Rogers Centre while another enthusiast poses amid the Rocky Mountains while wearing a Blue Jays cap.

The enthusiasm isn't just on social media.

Stuart Ashton, general manager of Montreal sports bar McLean's Pub, said Jays games and players are enjoying unprecedented popularity among people who have good reason to hate the team.

Montrealers -- described by Ashton as feeling great antipathy towards Toronto sports clubs in general -- have been particularly anti-Jays since they lost their hometown Expos in 2004.

This time, however, the mood is different, says Ashton.

"In the city in general you see a lot more Blue Jays caps on," he said. "In the pub as well, they're requesting the games on television more than they would have in the past."

Talk around the pub now features more detailed discussions of players' names and stats, according to bartender Kenny MacIntyre. But the consensus among pub staff is that they're fairweather fans who will likely jump off the Jays bandwagon as quickly as they hopped aboard should their fortunes start to fall.

Such behaviour is infuriating to some who say they've stuck with the team through thick and thin.

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