Baseball is the unifying thread in the Visentin clan.
But Thomas Visentin, 9, has yet to experience the thrill of cheering for a playoff-bound home team.
To explain to his son what being a Blue Jays fan could feel like this season, Matt Visentin goes back to his own experience of the team’s World Series years. “Every game was a big deal and you were excited to watch,” he says. “It lifts your spirits, it lifts the city’s spirits. It’s something to cheer for.”
That was 20 years ago. But with a much-talked-about overhaul of the Jays’ lineup, excitement is back in town, and Thomas is ready to join in. He has witnessed more losses than wins in his abbreviated years of fandom. He knows the landmark Joe Carter blast that ended the 1993 Series only from video clips. He’s had discussions with his father about why announcer Tom Cheek cried “Touch ‘em all, Joe.”
“Or else it wouldn’t be a home run,” emphasizes the well-schooled Little League shortstop, who attended a Blue Jays instructional clinic last season.
Baseball fans have long memories – no sport is more caught up in its traditions – but a father’s nostalgia becomes more meaningful when it can connect to the fresh experiences of the next generation. The Visentins’ game of catch is a dependable sight on their narrow west end street, with Thomas wearing his father’s vintage early-80s Jays cap as he tosses a surprisingly strong fastball. (So far, he’s resisting his Dad’s urgings to develop the crazy knuckler favoured by the Jays’ new pitcher, R.A. Dickey). Though he wears a Jose Bautista jersey, and took some heat from his coach for imitating the power hitter’s uppercut batting stroke, he’s now looking to model himself on another new acquistion, the slick-fielding speedster Jose Reyes.
Born at the end of the 2003 season, a hopeful year when Roy Halladay won the Cy Young and Carlos Delgado had a .426 on-base percentage, Thomas got to tap into the glorious past by attending the nostalgic tribute game honouring retiring manager Cito Gaston in 2010. He and his Dad scored a pair of free seats behind home plate that night, thanks to some generous fans in the ticket line who were struck by their head-to-toe Blue Jay attire. But the good old days, father and son both hope, are about to make a comeback: Dramatic off-season dealing by general manager Alex Anthopoulos has turned the Blue Jays into a more potent presence for the Visentin family as Tuesday’s home opener beckons.
“I’m really excited for this year,” says Matt, who like many Toronto fans of his generation watched the Jays' inaugural game on a classroom TV in 1977 and a mere 15 years later poured out from a sports bar to celebrate the team’s first World Series win on an instantly thronged Yonge St. “I don’t know if they’re going to win the World Series, but if they make the playoffs, obviously it will be great for the city to get excited and rally behind them.”
Matt wears Brett Lawrie’s number 13 jersey “out of his sheer energy and passion. He’s exciting, he’s a little unrefined still in terms of decisions. But the raw talent is certainly there.” The third baseman’s passion for arm-length tattoos may be the one Blue Jay trait that hasn’t been encouraged in the Visentin household.
Being a true fan is a lifelong commitment, an unswerving allegiance that accepts the ups and downs of spectator sport as an equation that will always balance out. A love of baseball, at fan level, is bigger than mere wins and losses. Matt happily recalls the annual opening-day ritual of skipped high-school classes, the spring-training games in Florida when nothing seemed to matter much, the procession of great names like Molitor and Henderson and Winfield and Alomar that have adorned the Toronto jersey. Thomas singles out the time he ran the bases at the Rogers Centre after the Jays beat the Yankees, a game where the family marked his grandfather’s 80th birthday – “I know how they feel,” he says, referring to his fleet-footed idols.
For Thomas’s well-tutored baseball mind, there’s only one problem that success could bring this season: Tickets will become hard to get, just like back in the glory years.
“We might have to sit up in the 500s this year instead of down low,” agrees his father.
“Hey, it’s worth it,” replies
the fan of the new millennium. “Better to go to the game.”