Toronto has just concluded another series at Seattle's Safeco Field, or Rogers Centre West, where the overwhelming presence of Blue Jays fans once again made headlines in both cities.
This year, despite the Mariners jacking up ticket prices to roughly double their usual amount, utilizing MLB's dynamic pricing model, Jays fans once again turned out in droves, estimated by the Seattle Times to consist of around 70 percent of the crowd on the weekend. Which is, obviously, nuts. The last two games of the series each drew over 40,000 fans, a figure the Mariners had previously reached only once since Opening Day.
Just as it appears on television, it's an uncanny phenomenon rarely seen in any professional sport, one felt acutely by fans and players on both teams. It's one of the most aesthetically and emotionally beautiful experiences out there for a Canadian baseball fan, and the reasons are numerous—Seattle is a top-notch city with a stunning waterfront, Safeco Field makes Rogers Centre look like a blue-speckled slab of concrete (not to mention the holy garlic fries), but more than anything, it's the unspoken unity felt by the visiting Jays fans in the city that truly elevates this experience.
I witnessed this first-hand while living in Seattle last year. During my morning commute the first day the Jays were in Seattle, I felt as if leaves of my hometown Toronto had sprouted spontaneously in the city I now called home. It was spine-tingling to see a team take over not only a stadium, but a city—anywhere you walked in downtown Seattle there were Jays fans, increasing in number toward Pioneer Square, where most cafes and bars were overrun with fans of Canada's team. My coworkers who lived near that area jokingly complained to me about the "infestation of Canadians."
Walking toward the stadium, Occidental Avenue became a sea of Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista jerseys. Teeming with energy, a group of fans sitting on the outdoor patio of a bar became a high-five line for every passing Jays fan.
The game-day experience goes something like this: Jays fans arrive early to gather along the baselines and outfield to watch batting practice, their eyeballs soaking in every delicious sight of their heroes. The players struggle to keep up with autograph requests, doing their best to accommodate the masses who flock to see them.
Then, "O Canada."
Even at the Rogers Centre I had rarely heard the national anthem echo with the haunting resonance it had the day I went, a Canadian choir so loud those in the nearby International District could probably hear it.
Though blue is the colour of both teams, just like the Jays' hue is a shade more intense and vibrant, so were their fans, creating a marvelous home atmosphere on the road despite being outnumbered. "Let's go Blue Jays!" chants peppered each inning, and a standing ovation greeted Marco Estrada as he walked toward the dugout. Even the rhythmic clapping commenced on cue whenever a Jays pitcher had a two-strike count, while hearty boos rained down when a Mariners pitcher would throw to first to check the runner. It was the same idea this past weekend for Toronto's lone 2017 trip to Seattle.
Above all else, it's the sense of togetherness that makes this experience truly memorable. The almost un-Canadian pride shared by those complicit in reversing home-field advantage, the subtle smile and nod when two complete strangers meet at an intersection near Pike Place, united by nothing but the blue caps on their heads. I became friends with a couple beside me from Vernon, British Columbia, and countless other Canadian bonds were sparked in each section of the stadium.
For what it's worth, even some Mariners players have warmed to the series this year.
"It's a little shocking," said Mariners outfielder Jarrod Dyson after the series opener. "There was a lot of blue out there, but at the same time, you look at that as momentum to the home team and you want go out there and quiet their crowd. It felt like we were in a playoff game. I liked it."
With apologies to Mariners fans, it seems this series only serves to heighten the atmosphere at Safeco Field and create one of the most unique experiences in pro sports. Whether it's a fan from northern Alberta, southern British Columbia (which represents the majority of Blue Jays fans who invade Safeco), or a Torontonian working in Seattle, the series will have a different meaning for each person.
For three memorable days, however, those fans are brought together by a spirited rendition of "O Canada," a shared love for a baseball team, and the ability to claim they have been part of this great annual pilgrimage.