Duane Ward and Joe Carter stood on the field before the game, as symbols of achievement that Blue Jays fans haven't seen since their 1992 and 1993 World Series championship teams.
Manager John Gibbons said Jays fans will naturally cling to those teams emotionally until another squad achieves another championship. Since 1993, Toronto has finished third or lower in the American League East in every season but one. The Jays regularly crammed the SkyDome/now Rogers Centre in those years with crowds of 50,000, and since then average attendance has plummeted, ranking in the bottom-10 of the Major Leagues for the past four seasons.
Fans sense a turnaround in 2013. Jays president Paul Beeston said on a radio interview before the game that the club could reach 3 million in attendance for the first time since 1993. Following the sellout on Tuesday for the season opener against the Cleveland Indians, he said the Jays will likely draw 25,000-30,000 for Game 2. To achieve the 3-million mark, they'll need to play "meaningful games in September."
The Jays sent National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the mound and started a batting order with switch-hitters in the 8, 9, 1, and 2 slots.
With the veterans in the current clubhouse, Carter drew a parallel to the '92 and '93 teams with Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield alongside. While pointing out that Jose Bautista presides over the clubhouse, he has plenty of veteran support alongside, including shortstop Jose Reyes, backup third baseman Mark DeRosa and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.
"We all stayed grounded," Carter said. "We knew what the goals were. Even though there was outside pressure, we knew internally what we had to do. We had that chemistry."
Fans arrived on a cold day in Toronto into the climate controlled stadium to see artificial turf with a sheen on it, and seams protruding seemingly hazardously. Toronto and Tampa Bay are the only two teams in baseball with artificial turf, though Toronto's is removed regularly for concerts, football games and other events. It is laid down in 120 pieces.
Beeston told The Globe and Mail editorial board recently that the intent is to retain the stadium, the type of multi-purpose facility that's gone the way of dial-up internet, and replace the turf with natural grass. However, that can't be done until the Argos of the CFL find a new home.
For now, Beeston, Gibbons and company were anxious to manage the hype and get the season underway. Gibbons isn't big on meetings but he held one last week to address the topic.
"Don't get caught up in the hype - don't get distracted, is what I meant," Gibbon said, relating his theme to media. "Go play baseball."
On the other side of the field, Indians manager Terry Fancona was making his official return to the dugout after a year away. After being fired as Boston manager, Francona broadcast games for ESPN. John Farrell, his pitching coach in Boston before becoming Blue Jays manager in 2011, left the Blue Jays to take the Red Sox job.
They're paid princely sums of money to play and coach baseball, but still get nervous as kids before a big game. Francona said he slept 2-1/2 hours,
"Not that I look good today, but at the end of the season, I'll know how much worse I'll look," he said. "Sleep? It's gone."
Notes: Former Jays GM Gord Ash notes that the 1990 Jays had the closest formation to Tuesday night's lineup of Dominican-born players in the 9-1-2-3-4 slots of the order. Junior Felix batted first, Tony Fernandez second, George Bell fourth and Manny Lee eighth.