• A Minor Bird

    by  • August 21, 2012 • Baseball, Features, Mike Spry • 3 Comments

    “The fault must partly have been in me.
    The bird was not to blame for his key.”
    — Robert Frost

    ABOUT A YEAR AGO I moved from Montreal to Toronto, and as I watch the summer fade to fall from the distant resort and perspective of a rural cottage, I’m not entirely sure as to why. I mean, I had reasons. There was much to envy about the city: great bands, good restaurants, museums, galleries, culture. Apparently it’s where the jobs are, but I have yet to find that to be the case. It’s the publishing centre of Canada, but the community is more fun to visit than it is to be a part of—or not a part of. There was a girl. There’s always a girl. And there was baseball.

    Perhaps what I was most looking forward to was living in a city with a major league ball team, something I’d never experienced. And what timing it was, with the Blue Jays finally being mentioned as contenders. The team was young and confident. They boasted a legitimate superstar, and a prodigal GM. They had new uniforms. The future was now. But, as with work, and writing, and women, it was not to be. And it made me realize that in all my years as a fan of sports, as a devoted follower of teams through which I have lived the vicarious dreams of youth, a team I have loved and cheered for has never won a championship. As a sports fan, I ain’t never won nothing.

    The Toronto Blue Jays are finishing out what can only be described as a failed season. Their staff ace, Ricky Romero, appears lost. In the span of a week three-fifths of their starting rotation went down with serious injuries, with only Brandon Morrow slated to return this season, while Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek required Tommy John surgeries. Starting catcher JP Arencibia and superstar Jose Bautista went out with a broken hand and wrist respectively soon after, and with that the team folded up and died. These are the excuses that management will trot out in the post-mortem at season’s end, but they’re nothing more than simple talking points that insult a hungry fanbase. Every team has injuries. Every team has a major component whose season falls short. Simply put the Jays lacked the depth to compete in the too strong AL East, and have fallen behind even the lowly Orioles of Baltimore. To cite this 2012 season as anything other than an unmitigated disaster would be an insult to unmitigated disasters. Hell, the Mets are having a better season. The As. The damned Pittsburgh Pirates.

    My inability to pick a winner extends beyond baseball. Growing up I was an Ottawa Senators fan, and though the Sens experienced a decade as one of the NHL’s premiere teams, advancing to the Stanley Cup finals as recently as 2007, they never won it all. At some point I transitioned to a Habs fan, as one is wont to do when they move to Montreal and the city embraces them like no other. And in 2010 I was taken on a ride like no other, on the back of Jaroslav Halak and a team with no chance and nothing to lose. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. My attachments, my affections, tend to come up lacking.

    I was not a Blue Jays fan growing up, so I missed the vicarism of their back-to-back World Series wins in the early 90s. I was, and am, a Montreal Expos fan and the disappointments of that franchise are well documented. One day, when I have fully recovered from Black Monday, from the departure of Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, and Pedro Martinez, from 1994, and the move to Washington, I’ll write about it. But for now, it’s still fresh. It’s too soon. The Expos will always be the one that got away, the love that succumbed to error and greed, eager mistakes of youth and inexperience, a fight that waned in the fading days of inevitability.

    I left baseball for a bit when it became apparent that the Expos were not to be, and only came back to the game in 2005 when I had a job mapping Ontario for a company that collected GPS information for OnStar. I spent the summer months on the road staying in cosmopolitan metropoli like Thunder Bay, Espanola, and Cochrane. After 8 hours a day of driving, I’d find some cheap motel with a tired bar where the only thing there ever seemed to be on the TVs were Jays games. It brought me back, and whether through some misguided version of patriotism or recollection of youth, I became a Jays fan. And for seven years they’ve never come close to qualifying for the postseason, let alone winning it all.

    The Jays are the worst kind of failure in sport, because they don’t finish out-and-out last. They revel in mediocrity. Never good enough to win, but never bad enough to start over. They’re the proverbial .500 team. They excel at average. They are a celebration of pedestrian. They’re a loveless relationship—settled and unfulfilling, encouraging promiscuity, counter-intuitive to my loyalty. But it’s not as if they don’t have the tools. Bautista is arguably one of the ten best players in the game. Alex Anthopoulos, the media darling boy-genius GM, has rebuilt the scouting department and farm system. Colby Rasmus, once Tony LaRussa’s whipping boy, looks like he has found a home, and his swing. Brett Lawrie is Pete Rose-lite without the gambling addiction, and he’s a Canadian to boot, which seems to play well in the market if not on the field. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Fox Sports were touting them as the sleeper team in the AL, especially with the expanded playoff format. But sitting in the 500 level seats, drinking $10 beers, getting 2am drunk, it became obvious that this was not the season, like every season. And as the dreams of a pennant faded in summer’s penultimate month, I came to realize that this is how it always ends for me. In disappointment. In despair. In debt. In hopes of next season. Next season. Always next season, like the next book or the next job or the next city or the next love. Next season.

    I want to feel what it is to win.

    I want to be the last fan standing in late October or June.

    It has come to the point that when noting my disappointment, I can simply copy and paste from the previous year’s documentation. Hell, even the Red Sox fans got to feel it, got to taste it, got to suck at the sweet teat of victory. I want to suck that teat. I’ve had similar experiences. When the Canadian men’s hockey team won in Salt Lake, and then in Vancouver. But the Olympics are built on a legacy of patriotism, and jingoism. Those teams are together for two weeks. They’re affairs, fleeting moments of romance. They’re one night stands among a lifetime of failed love. I’m an Expos fan, a Habs fan, a Jays fan, trapped in-between cities and eras, reveling in absence and jealousy. For too long my emotions have risen and fallen with every game, every week, every season, every glimpse of almost, and the inevitable crushing heartbreak and humility of never. I’m forever envious of the parade, of waking up not in realization of defeat, but rather the comfort of victory.

    Next season. Always next season.


    Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others. He is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. The short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2012 ReLit Award. He lives in Wakefield, Quebec. His most recent work is the poetry collection Bourbon & Eventide from Invisible Publishing.


    3 Responses to A Minor Bird

    1. David Brock
      August 21, 2012 at 18:13

      A lovely, tear-jerking heart breaker of a eulogy that mirrors my casual fan emotions; however, somewhere Cubs’ fans are crafting a response highlighting the time they walked to school in the snow barefoot and uphill both ways…a Cleveland blogger is wondering if you plagiarized her emotions…. a Mariners’ fan is just typing “‘eff off, Mike Spry” over and over and over and over….

      • August 21, 2012 at 18:39

        Thanks, David. Cubs fans live in their own private hell. Cleveland does not rock. Seattle at least got a perfect game and a few playoff losses…

    2. Bruce
      August 24, 2012 at 20:43

      They’re in the wrong league.

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