This season’s opening series took place in the Great White North, and for the first time I was able to attend the inaugural series of a season. A weekend of baseball under a closed dome left the Yankees with a series split, and with a few first impressions.
In music, professional wrestling and other performance art, heat is the relative engagement of a live audience. Crowds that are reactionary are hot, while more apathetic viewers are cold. It’s important to remember that heat can be measured by positive or negative reactions; both cheers and resounding boos are indicative of an engaged audience.
Heat isn’t necessary for a baseball game, of course, but it does lend some insight into the general feelings fans have towards the teams playing, their given or imagined abilities, and how much people actually care about the game right in front of them. All this is to say that, this weekend was one of the hottest Toronto crowds I’ve ever been a part of.
As the Yankees have been on the downswing for the last couple seasons, and the Jays on the up and up, these games didn’t have much attached to them at all. Alex Rodriguez would still get his share of boos, but there wasn’t much to indicate that a series with the Yankees was any different than when Tampa, Baltimore or Oakland came to town. For now, that dynamic has changed.
It starts, of course, with the announcement of the starting lineup. As a Yankees fan on the road, you expect to hear a hearty chorus of boos, amplified by the fact that the crowds are larger for a season-opening series. Instead, the crowd reacted with a smattering of boos, but the far more prevalent attitude was one of anticipation, like the moment before a firework goes off. Jays fans don’t enjoy this Yankee lineup, but even they can’t hide their excitement around seeing the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez all at once.
The anticipation trickles down to expectations, especially in the top of an inning. Take a game like Sunday, for example. Marcus Stroman, one of the better pitchers in baseball, is on the mound and struggles from the word go. Brett Gardner is retired to start the game, but Judge and Stanton successively walk. Immediately, in the fourth game of the season, the entire crowd goes silent. With Didi Gregorius up, 50,000 people are wrapped as tightly as they would be in a playoff game.
The heat builds until it breaks in the biggest moments, like Kevin Pillar’s steal of home on Saturday’s game or Justin Smoak’s go-ahead grand slam in the series finale. Prior to last season, it wasn’t as big a deal to beat the Yankees as it had been at the turn of the century, for example, and the 2018 Yankees have re-emerged as an apparent powerhouse. Heat doesn’t really have any effect on the outcome of a game, of course, but Yankee fans should take some consolation in knowing that their team is the most exciting in baseball once again.