Fans have shown support in record numbers for each of final four teams
By Terence Moore
No matter what happens during the World Series, this already is an October for the ages in baseball. Thrilling comebacks. Splendid pitching (well, when explosive offenses aren't breaking loose). Individually, when Kevin Pillar isn't doing the miraculous with his glove, Daniel Murphy is morphing into Reggie Jackson at the plate.
That said, the magic of this postseason begins and ends with this: Have you seen the crowds?
Nothing shows all of this more than the fans associated with baseball's final four of the Royals, Blue Jays, Cubs and Mets. Not coincidentally, those teams haven't won a World Series championship in decades. So it was 1986 (the Mets) vs. 1908 (the Cubs) in the National League Championship Series and 1993 (the Blue Jays) vs.1985 (the Royals) in the American League Championship Series, which means those four sets of fans have been ready to burst with joy since last century.
Let's start with the strangest scene you'll ever see in defeat. The Mets just swept the Cubs out of the playoffs, and the clincher came Wednesday night in Chicago. Even so, with the Mets celebrating like crazy throughout Wrigley Field, many of the 42,227 fans who squeezed into the place (capacity: 41,072) remained.
Those Cubs fans weren't into misery. They were into praise. They applauded their thoroughly vanquished heroes with chants of "Let's go, Cubbies" at the top of their lungs. Manager Joe Maddon eventually brought his players and coaches back from the clubhouse for an encore, and the fans roared even more. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts told the New York Times earlier that evening, "I walked around for six innings tonight, and I heard 10,000 thank-yous."
Despite Wrigley's tight quarters, the Cubs' home attendance impressively increased during the regular season by an average of 3,799 fans per game.
The Mets can relate. Their home attendance jumped by 5,197 fans per game during the regular season, and five-year-old Citi Field began to rock like never before. Then again, the ballpark didn't exist during the Mets' seven previous trips to the playoffs. When the team buses arrived at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon following the Mets' flight from Chicago, the team was stunned. Not only were they met by reporters, but also by fans. Some wore T-shirts declaring, "The Pennant Will Rise," and others sang the team anthem of "Meet the Mets."
Mets fans popularized the hoisting of signs with messages during games. It goes back to the Miracle Mets days of 1969. It continued in the "You Gotta Believe" year of '73. Then it accelerated with the dynamic team of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden that won the World Series in '86. And, yes, there is an epidemic of imaginative signs around these Mets.
Royals fans don't have such a celebrity in their midst, but they have something just as impressive: themselves. Two weeks ago, a Kansas City woman named her child "Royal," and the mother and son are part of the plentiful and the loud around their expanding world. If you didn't know better, you'd say Kansas City folks finally realize that fans are fans -- regardless of nation, creed or sport.
Consider, for instance, that Arrowhead Stadium owns the reputation as the loudest outdoor facility in the National Football League. Chiefs fans scream early and often. Since Kauffman is next door to Arrowhead, well, you get the idea. So do Chiefs and Royals fans, who now are kindred souls when it comes to generating noise.
Although the Mets had baseball's second-highest rise in attendance per game over last season, nobody topped the Royals at 9,285 fans. Those who can't make it to Kauffman Stadium often fill the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City. There, fans yell "Moooooose" so fervently for Mike Moustakas that he likely can hear them, even though the ballpark is several of his long blasts away.
Which leaves the Blue Jays, owners of the third-highest jump in attendance per game at 5,177 fans. But there is more to their part of this story. In 1992, when they prepared to capture the first of back-to-back World Series championships, Blue Jays slugger Dave Winfield paused during his journey to the Baseball Hall of Fame to point out the hometown fans' gentleness. He wanted more fire from them, and he got it ...
Twenty-three years later.
No ballpark is noisier these days in the Majors than Rogers Centre, and Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez said early during the ALCS that the Toronto crowd affects the umpires.
The umpires would disagree, but this is for sure: When Jose Bautista helped the Blue Jays beat the Royals at Rogers Centre with a clutch home run in Game 3, veteran ESPN radio announcer Dan Shulman said afterward on the Dan Patrick Radio Show, "I've covered a lot of events, but I've never seen or felt that release of emotion. ... It was stunning."
Added Shulman, who is Canadian, "[We] are known as reserved and nice, and that's the way we generally are." But then he mentioned a few days later on the ESPN airways that the Blue Jays crowds have evolved over the years from older to younger.
Oh, and louder.
"[Our fans] have been huge for us since we really turned this thing around," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, referring to his team's spurt after the All-Star break, with nearly every Toronto resident going baseball-berserk along the way. "We need them."
Baseball needs them ... and their screaming counterparts.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.