On a rainy Tuesday night, following a long weekend, following back-to-back sellouts, with Marco Estrada on the hill against Phil Hughes, the ghost of Joe Mauer, rookie cleanup hitter Miguel Sano, and the rest of the no-name Minnesota Twins, the Toronto Blue Jays drew 26,504 paying customers. And it was great.
The atmosphere was lively, and apart from the upper-level seats way out down the foul line, next to the hotel, and the ones in the alpine reaches of the upper bowl—the ones where you can see the backs of the massive, overhanging stadium light fixtures—most of the sections looked full.
What can often be a listless Rogers Centre crowd was noticeably more boisterous than on a typical midweek night against a non-divisional foe. The group I was with was even concerned that we'd have trouble discreetly making our way into better seats. And though we did manage to pull it off, we found ourselves several rows higher than we had in previous games this season.
This was despite the rain outside, which necessitated the closing of the roof—which can often make the stadium uncomfortably humid—and perhaps imposes a bigger impediment to attendance this season thanks to MLB's new security theatre policies. It creates larger-than-usual lineups at every gate, as each fan must pass through a metal detector before gaining entry into the stadium.
This was despite the traffic, the opponent, the cost of food and drink, the walk through the rain to even get to those lineups, and whatever sort of residual fatigue may have remained after a weekend that featured a playoff-like series with the Royals and the sensational debut of David Price.
So, naturally, it was met—at least on Twitter—with a wave of consternation about the raw number and the fact that it wasn't higher.
This, some Jays fans will tell you, is why we can't have nice things.
For instance, a Twitter account owned by Sportsnet—the TV network that broadcasts Jays games and is owned by the same company, Rogers, that owns the club—called "Sportsnet Stats" tweeted that on the same day in 1986, with the club holding a similar record and sitting a similar number of games back in the division, 35,041 paid to see the Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium. It's not exactly a fair comparison for a number of obvious reasons.
For starters, August 4, 1986, was in fact the holiday Monday. When this was pointed out by several people on Twitter, the person running the account suggested we look at the following day. The Jays drew 30,437—sure, that's a better number than the one being complained about this week, but still not as impressive. Not only was Exhibition Stadium an outdoor park—data from Environment Canada shows that it was 22.4 C at 7 PM on that date, with a small rain shower at 5 PM the only precipitation noted for the day—but the Jays were at the beginning of their hugely popular spell in the late 1980s and early '90s, having won their first division title the year before. They were also facing the reigning World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals, and the most expensive seats in the lower bowl at the time cost just $12.
So perhaps we could look to the club's most recent game on the Tuesday following a home date on the August holiday that didn't feature the New York Yankees (who always draw well in Toronto, regardless of the Jays' circumstances). It happened against Baltimore in 2006, and saw the Jays, who were eight games back of the wild card (and 17 back in their division) draw 28,823—albeit in an era that was notorious for papering the house, which means that figure might be a little bit high. And on the holiday afternoon the day before? Just 23,838 in attendance.
The Jays of 2015, then, if you were making your comparison just one day before, are doing astonishingly well at the gate. But, of course, that's not a perfect comparison, either. Because there is no perfect comparison.
Each season is its own thing, and while some may feel disappointed enough by the numbers, and whatever they think they say about how fully Jays fans have immediately given their hearts to this club in the wake of Alex Anthopoulos' stunning trade deadline moves, to engage in the unseemly practice of attendance shaming, there are far better ways to gauge the pulse of the fan base than to roll one's eyes at one crowd on one imperfect night that was actually lively and hopeful and truly enjoyable to be a part of.
The Blue Jays, according to ESPN, are averaging 29,480 fans over 55 home dates in 2015—slightly ahead of last season's 29,327. Does anyone think it's not going up? Does anyone who follows the team actually need to have it pointed out to them that the stadium is still not yet full, or to act like the second fans saw Price in the uniform they should have pulled the wheelbarrow from the shed, taken it to the bank to load up so they could indiscriminately throw piles of bills at the first ticketing agent they could find?
These things take time. And if the Blue Jays—currently as relevant as they've been in two decades, save for a brief blip in the winter of 2013—keep on winning, then there is no doubt they'll get there. Sales are likely to spike the rest of the month, and particularly in September as the team fights for its first postseason berth since 1993. The Blue Jays have a very real chance to end the season with an average attendance of 30,000-plus per home game, a mark the team has reached only once (in 2013) since its 88-win 1998 campaign.
No need to dwell on the particulars, Toronto. No need to overthink it. On a Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins you could feel it, if you wanted to.