Toronto baseball fans at the Skydome, at least in my estimations, have always been relatively poor in terms of baseball acumen.
Whether it’s booing a player for executing a good sacrifice because he got out or seemingly being more concerned with doing the wave than watching a baseball game at a critical juncture, I’ve always been a bit ashamed of some of the masses who make their way down to the Dome.
Another one of those fan curiosities has been how former Blue Jays are treated when they return to the Skydome. Over the years there have been several returning players who have inexplicably been booed, seemingly for no other reason than the fact they are no longer a Blue Jay, rather than as any sort of reflection of their previous contribution to the franchise.
I mean, really, did Gregg Zaun, our current beloved studio analyst and former journeyman catcher, deserve to be booed when he returned to Toronto after his tenure with the Jays ended? No, Zauny brought his z-game and hit walk-off slams for the Jays, of course he didn’t deserve that, but it happened.
For all the shortcomings of Toronto baseball fans, sometimes they get it right. I was lucky enough to be at the stadium for the Canada versus USA World Baseball Classic showdown in 2009 and although the home country came up short, that was easily the most memorable sporting event I’ve ever been a part of and the crowd was phenomenal and in the game from start to finish.
Likewise, I let out a big exhale this year when Roy Halladay came to town and was rightfully treated like a king. True, I didn’t really think Halladay was likely to get booed as the most revered player in the franchise’s history, but part of me was still concerned that some knuckle draggers would use the logic that Phillies = Not Jays = Boo and go to work from there.
Also, prior to that, events like Halladay versus Burnett after A.J. jumped ship to the evil empire are examples of how on occassion, Jays fans nail it.
That all being said, I was especially concerned that former Jays leader Vernon Wells would be booed upon his return to Toronto. I was almost certain that he would be by at least half the crowd, as this was a guy who seemingly could do no right in Toronto, in large part due to his heinous contract, in smaller part due to sky-high expectations and underperformance.
During his time as a Jay, Wells could have a multi-hit game going, pop up in his last at bat and still get booed, so how was I to expect that type of fan would graciously welcome him back with applause as a member of the opposition?
Well, Jays fans got it right this time. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the assembled Skydome crowd gave Wells a well-deserved standing ovation. While he might not have brought Toronto a championship and he might not have reached everyone’s lofty expectations, he was a man who gave a lot to the city of Toronto, not just in service time between the lines, but in good humanitarianism outside them.
I was equally pleased to read Gregor Chisholm’s story over at bluejays.com that noted that the Jays organization did its part in recognizing Wells:
The Blue Jays displayed a video tribute for their former star prior to the game. It outlined his accomplishments in a Blue Jays uniform and particularly focused on his charitable work off the field.
Wells played a major role in the Jays Care Foundation during his tenure in Toronto and spent a lot of time and money working with amateur baseball around the city.
To honour his accomplishments, the Jays Care Foundation made a $40,000 donation to the Salvation Army on behalf of the Wells family.
So a hearty hat tip goes to the Toronto organization for treating this situation with class and also to the fans for giving a proper welcome to one of the franchise’s best all-time players.
*I should note I didn’t get to watch the game, due to my workplace not carrying Sportsnet-1. I saw the highlights on bluejays.com and tried to watch Jays in 30, but apparently tennis is on instead. All this to say, I don’t know what type of reaction Wells received in his second, third, fourth at bats, etc., so my comments are related only to his opening reception.