Blue Jays and fans prepare for sold-out home opener
The Toronto Blue Jays will return to the Rogers Centre on Monday riding a wave of excitement and holding the giddy hopes of Toronto sports fans, optimistic for a breakout season.
The Jays will host a capacity crowd Monday evening when they play their first home game of the 2012 season.
Optimism abounds in a city full of sports fans who were once more likely to grumble loudly about the failings of their hockey team than cheer optimistically about the boys of summer.
"I think that not only Toronto, but all of Canada is ready to embrace this team," second-year manager John Farrell recently told The Canadian Press.
Excited fans bought out the stadium in less than an hour when tickets went on sale last February. The Jays have since posted their best-ever record of 24-7-1 in spring training and opened the season with two epic wins and one tight loss in Cleveland against the Indians.
While the Blue Jays routinely sell out the first game of the season, seats inside the 50,000-capacity stadium went at a record pace this season.
According to the Globe and Mail, team management has decided to restrict the sale of beer to one at a time for those sitting in the upper deck, in an attempt to limit drunken revelry and fistfights in the cheap seats.
The Rogers Centre's 500 Level has seen its share of brawls in the past, including on instance in 2008 that saw nearly 100 fans ejected over the course of the game.
The hope is that such tomfoolery will subside as the Blue Jays round into form on the field, rejuvenating fans that still remember the back-to-back World Series wins and luring new followers onto the welcoming bandwagon.
Superstar Jose Bautista is back after leading Major League Baseball in homeruns each of the past two seasons (43 homers in 2011, 54 in 2010).
Beside him is a young core of players, including the explosive Langley, B.C. native Brett Lawrie, who broke onto the scene during his major league debut with the Jays last August.
Lawrie says he is particularly excited to return to Canadian soil against the winless Boston Red Sox on Monday.
"The city is alive," Lawrie told CP. "There's going to be a good buzz and I can't wait."
Blue Jays fans can find more optimism in the league's decision to add an extra wild-card berth, which improves the Jays' chances of returning to the playoffs for the first time in almost two decades.
But they will still have to compete against a stacked American League East division, which includes the Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, three teams that routinely rank among the best in the league.
Bautista isn't one to shrink away from a challenge, and believes the team has the players it needs to take on the toughest teams in the league.
"Sure, we're in a tough division, but we have talent," Bautista said. "We have to hope for good health. If that happens, we don't need guys to do crazy, overboard things to win. If everybody does what is expected, we should have a good year. If we just do our jobs, we should be fine."
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez is scheduled to start Monday's game against the Red Sox, who will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront.