Rowdy crowd expected for AL Wild Card Game in Toronto
By Richard Justice
TORONTO -- At Rogers Centre, they show up early and get right into the spirit of the thing. Which means standing and cheering, screaming and shouting. Loudly. Constantly.
Want to say a few words to the guy in the next seat? Forget about it.
Welcome to baseball in Toronto, where the Blue Jays are once more riding the emotion of one of the best home ballpark environments in the sport. These fans get it in every way. They also get the importance of certain games, too, the emotion and expectation and all of that.
That's why tonight's Orioles-Blue Jays American League Wild Card Game (8 ET, TBS/Sportsnet in English or RDS in French) is perfect for Rogers Centre. In a place where every home game has the look and feel of a big event, the crowd will be loud, the seats filled and the emotions apparent.
The Blue Jays led the American League in home attendance this season by drawing 3.4 million fans to Rogers Centre, an average of almost 42,000. While those numbers are impressive, it's the sense of excitement about the games and the players that's so striking. This is cheering from the first pitch until the last, especially during the playoffs when fans understand that every inning could be decisive.
"It's the kind of sound you remember forever," Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson said during the 2015 postseason. "These fans are so into it."
This leads to some craziness at times. Umpires hear it when things go south. Opposing players understand what they're in for. And when there's one of those special moments -- like, say, a dramatic home run followed by a decisive bat flip -- those fans deliver a wall of sound capable of rattling your teeth.
You probably think you've heard some noisy venues. Hey, you once attended a Southeastern Conference football game, and you know what they say about Baton Rouge on a Saturday night?
There just aren't many places better to watch a game than Rogers Centre, especially in October.
Be forewarned, Orioles. You've played here so often you're probably comfortable with the atmosphere. Only this is different. Until you've played a postseason game here, you haven't experienced the full Rogers Centre effect.
If you were there for Jose Bautista's ALDS Game 5-turning home run last fall against the Rangers, it's probably not the home run -- or even the bat flip -- you remember most.
It's the thunderclap of noise that rolled across the place an instant later. This was a cheer 22 years in the making, which was how long it had been since the Blue Jays last won a postseason series.
Joe Carter ended the 1993 World Series with one of the great postseason moments any player has ever delivered. His monstrous three-run home run ended Game 6 and set off a championship celebration. If you've seen the video of Carter circling the bases, alternately running and leaping and screaming, you understand.
No baseball moment has ever been sweeter or more dramatic. To the 52,195 fans, this was a defining moment for a city, franchise and country.
And that's the best thing about having the Blue Jays back in the playoffs. Last season when they returned to the postseason for the first time since Carter's home run, they awakened baseball in an entire country.
In Carter's day, the Blue Jays broke the four-million mark in home attendance three straight years. Last season, Blue Jays fans packed the place again and again down the stretch and recreated some of that 1993 magic.
October baseball is special in every city. The games coming up in New York and Chicago, in Washington and Texas, will all have a special vibe.
But there's no place like Rogers Centre, where it's louder and crazier than almost any place on earth. Welcome back to the postseason, Blue Jays.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.