With the Maple Leafs failing to reach the playoffs, the city's other boys-in-blue squad kicks off its home opener with high expectations of returning to the World Series.

It's been 14 years since the Blue Jays electrified a city, and the nation for that matter, by capturing its second straight World Series championship in 1993. Many baseball analysts say the current team should be a strong contender, after having finished second in their division last year and making some solid off-season acquisitions.

A large and raucous crowd is expected to fill the Rogers Centre Monday night to welcome back the Boys of Summer in their 31st year in Major League Baseball.

It's a time of year that means excitement for many baseball fans, says Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey.

"The first game of baseball in the season marks the beginning of spring, and looking ahead to warm weather and good times," Godfrey told CTV Newsnet.

Those warm days are still a distance away, however, as the current cold front chilling the city means the dome will be closed when the Jays take on the Kansas City Royals.

Toronto has several pre-game festivities planned, including an event to honour Vernon Wells for re-signing with the team and winning a Golden Glove for his defensive skills last year. Slugger Frank Thomas will be recognized for his Comeback Player of the Year award.

Ernie Whitt and Alan Ashby, members of the inaugural 1977 Jays lineup, were invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, while Canadian band The Trews were scheduled to perform the national anthems. General Motors of Canada also sponsored a new car giveaway.

Godfrey expects Toronto's talent will carry them deep into the playoffs, despite being in a division with wealthy and free-spending organizations.

"When you play in the American League East against the (New York) Yankees and the (Boston) Red Sox, who pay more than twice as much money as you're spending, it's always a tough fight," he said.

"But we really believe that we can be competitive this year with them and if the first games are any snapshot of what's going ahead, we like our chances."

The Jays began their season strongly on the road last week, winning two three games and dropping two. Their record puts that in first place in their division.

Godfrey says Toronto, led by manager John Gibbons, is a high-offensive club backed by a solid pitching staff.

"There's a lot of teams in Major League Baseball that are going to fear when the Blue Jays come to their town," he said.

The Jays signed prized centre-fielder Vernon Wells in the off-season to a US$126-million, seven-year contract extension. The deal is the richest if franchise history and the sixth largest in league history.

The squad also acquired Thomas to a two-year deal worth US$18-million. The 275-pound designated hitter could hit his 500th career home run in a Blue Jays uniform, as he is only 13 round-trippers short of that mark.

The Jays now have an expensive core of six players that, besides Wells and Thomas, includes Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and Troy Glaus.

Those players will cost the club about $65 million in 2007, $70 million in 2008 and $75 million in 2009.