For most of my life, it wasn't a big deal that I was a Royals fan born and living in Toronto. Toronto's baseball boom of the early nineties was all but cancelled out by the ensuing strike and the Jays miserable 1995 season. Most of the baseball fans I met thought that it was cute, if not a bit masochistic. Jays fans who pressed me for a reason I didn't root for Canada's team were usually satisfied by hearing George Brett had been my favorite player growing up, even though I'd caught just the tail end of his career.
As a student late into my twenties, I was able to wear my Royals hat almost everywhere. I would get so excited when I would see another one bobbing in front of me in the halls. I would run up to them, hoping to have met a comrade only to leave disappointed. "Oh, it's just my initials, is it a baseball team?"
When the Royals made it to the postseason last year, my phone blew up with notifications from well-wishers, many of whom I hadn't seen in years, congratulating me on the reward for my long suffering and wishing the Royals well. When the Royals lost in the World Series, I got more condolences than when each of my grandparents passed away, combined.
Things began to change on August 2nd after the final regular season game between the Royals and Jays. I had been the day before to see Cueto's debut but I couldn't make it to what would wind up being the most entertaining game of the series.
"What's with your Royals, bud?"
"Didn't know you were rooting for such a bunch of punks!"
"Volquez is lucky he doesn't have to bat. That dude needs to get one in his ear!"
I threw back some digs on Aaron Sanchez's command, but I could tell things wouldn't be the same. Not for awhile, anyways.
As the season wore on, things got testier. And not just with my friends, but with strangers around Toronto. As the Jays record began to reflect their talent, the number of people sporting the bird grew. Pretty soon, they were everywhere. By the time the Jays reached the playoffs, you couldn't throw a stone without hitting someone with a brand new cap or t-shirt. Fans were puffing out their chests, too.
"Kansas City?!? BOOOOOOOOO!!!!" one bus driver hollered at me as I got off at my stop. Cars playfully accelerated in my direction when they say me in my Royals hoodie and hat. "You've got the wrong gear on!" one person yelled from their balcony as I walked past. I gave a Kris Medlen salute and kept moving.
Once the ALCS matchup was set, things ratcheted up a notch. I was getting a several comments a day and some hard side-eye on the subway and streets. A colleague even asked with concern if I was really going to wear my hat outside for my lunch run.
On Friday night, I decided to go to my neighborhood sports-bar to watch the game. I'm not exactly a regular there, typically opting for brunch with my family rather than evening drinks, so I didn't know what type of crowd to expect. But one of the owners happens to be my neighbor and I was guaranteed safe passage and a spot to sit. I threw on my Jersey as I breached the doors, ready for anything.
I clapped loudly when Edinson Volquez struck out Ben Revere to begin the game, testing the waters. I got a few curious glances, and a quick reminder that it was the Jays who were at bat, not the Royals. I gestured to my hat and Greinke jersey and braced for the worst. It never came.
Sure, there were a few idle death threats. One elderly gentleman asked politely if anyone had a gun when I cheered as Alcides Escobar doubled home Alex Gordon in the third. "Seriously, will someone kill this guy?", I heard behind me after Salvador Perez homered in the 4th. But that was it. No serious confrontations, even from the most over-served patrons. I even had a few nice conversations with genuine baseball fans who offered their congratulations after the Royals scored in the bottom of the eighth.
This is a Maple Leafs town. It was before the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles and it will be after these playoffs are done, whether the Jays win it all or not. But today, as the ALCS returns to Toronto, the focus is squarely on baseball. Like any other city with a fresh taste of postseason success, it's brought a fair number of bandwagon fans. Some of them will stay for good. And the rest? Well, hopefully they've left the tags on their merchandise.