Fans pack Rogers Centre on Opening Night

Fans pack Rogers Centre on Opening Night

Fans pack Rogers Centre on Opening Night
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays officially kicked off their 2012 home schedule on Monday evening in front of a sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre.

Just under 50,000 fans were in attendance for the home opener amidst expectations that this could be the season the Blue Jays contend for a spot in the postseason for first time in almost 20 years.

It has been a long time coming, but Blue Jays manager John Farrell spent the spring openly talking about his club's desire to reach the playoffs, and he expects the fanbase to do the same.

"I would hope they would expect the highest, and that would be a team that's contending as we get deep into this regular season," Farrell said prior to the series opener against Boston.

"I feel like there are a lot of pieces here that people can begin to latch onto and take notice -- whether those are individuals in our uniform or the style in which we play."

As part of Monday's pregame ceremony, Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy presented Jose Bautista with his 2011 Silver Slugger Award. Bautista won his second consecutive American League Silver Slugger Award last season to go along with another Hank Aaron Award and All-Star nod for his work in right field.

Bautista followed his breakout campaign of 2010 with an arguably even better performance last year. He hit .301 with 103 RBIs while posting a Major League-leading 43 home runs and 132 walks while also leading the AL in slugging percentage (.608) and OPS (1.056) in 149 games.

The Dominican native is hoping for a repeat performance this year, but one that also includes his team improving on its 81-81 record from 2011. If that happens, Bautista believes the attention the club currently receives in Toronto will only increase.

"We have to win more games -- it comes down to that, we realize it, we all worked very hard in the offseason and the spring," Bautista said. "Everybody knows what kind of record we had in the spring, and it doesn't mean much in the regular season, but we started off pretty good and we're looking to carry over against the Red Sox in this series. It's going to be a fun year."

The Blue Jays had a moment of silence for Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean prior to Monday's game. The two amateur ballplayers from Prince Edward Island tragically passed away in Calgary, Alberta, during the offseason.

Starting pitcher Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow presented a signed jersey to the families, while the Jays Care Foundation made a $10,000 donation to Kidsport P.E.I. in memory of Craswell and MacLean.

Dr. Ron Taylor threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The former Major League pitcher was being recognized for his 35 years of service as a Blue Jays team physician. Performing the national anthems was Army Reserve Officer, 2nd Lieutenant Scott Newlands.

Last year, the Blue Jays ranked 25th in the Major Leagues for attendance with a total of 1,818,103 fans that walked through the gates at Rogers Centre. That was an increase of almost 200,000 from 2010, and the club is optimistic there will be another spike this year.

That ultimately will depend on how well the Blue Jays do this year, but if they start to win, then Farrell thinks the fans will follow.

"To me, Toronto is, in terms of its baseball grassroots, is a sleeping giant," Farrell said. "Having played here in the late '80s and early '90s, it's very clear what this city is capable of, what this country is capable of, and to have that support waiting to latch onto something is exciting. I think we're certainly working towards that. That's our vision and that's our goal."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.