The Toronto Blue Jays have banned beer sales in certain sections of the Rogers Centre during Twoonie Tuesday games due to unruly fans. The Battle of Alberta's Andy Grabia, a Red Sox fan who was on hand for Friday's home opener -- when some of us enjoyed pounding beers before, during and after the game -- shares his thoughts.
Let's get this out of the way: First trip to Toronto, first time at
SkyDome Rogers Centre (what isn't named after Ted Rogers in T Zero, by the way?), and a Red Sox fan.
That was me, last Friday night. I’d come to town for other reasons, but had hung around to see some baseball. And I was excited. Home opener. Big Papi. Manny Being Manny. Jacoby Taco Bellsbury. Powder blue jerseys. Robbie Alomar. Other than a "M-O-O-K-I-E" chant and a Dave Stieb crotch-grabbing, what more could a baseball fan ask for?
I knew the Jays were likely to win the series — they have a damn good team, they always play the Sox well, and the Sox were playing in their third country in a week — but it didn't matter. I was going to get some crackerjacks, kick back, and enjoy a ballgame.
Well, I was terribly wrong about the enjoying it part. As it turns out, Opening Night in Toronto was less about watching a baseball game than it was about a bunch of idiots wanting to be at the hip event, sloshed out of their Upper Canada College minds. By the fourth inning, as I walked around the stadium looking for some Blue Jays swag to bring home to my son, the beer lines were already long and the crowd was working its way into a lather. Sitting in the 200s, in left field, I was witness to:
- People in the 500s getting thrown out after starting a fight;
- A female and male streaker;
- The crowd booing officials for arresting said streakers;
- The crowd littering the outfield with popcorn, beer, pop, and rally towels (Ed.'s note -- it was a wise move not to hand out the schedule fridge magnets until after the game);
- People tossing beer on and arguing with fellow Jays fans in the section below us;
- A group of inebriates to my right wrestling with each other and falling down the stairs;
- One of those inebriates climbing up on the ledge in my section, with only a little rail preventing him from falling over the edge.
Did I mention that Shaun Marcum pitched a gem of a ball game, and that the Jays were up three runs while all of this occurred? That there was absolutely no reason for the rage and anti-social behaviour? Or that I had to pull the ledge-climber down by myself, as there was no security in sight? And that this was happening in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, not New York or Philadelphia? Yeah, you could have fooled me, too.
Friends who live in Toronto have subsequently classified last Friday night as a perfect storm. The story goes that it was opening night, at the beginning of the weekend and the Red Sox were in town (I suppose the Leafs being knocked out of the playoffs could be tossed into that story, but when were the Leafs ever in the playoffs?). As the events of Tuesday night's game against the Athletics have shown, however, this wasn't a freak occurrence. Lots of people at Blue Jays games apparently like to get blitzed and start trouble, without rhyme or reason.
Jays president Paul Godfrey — loudly booed on Opening Night, by the way, I guess because honoring Roberto Alomar and signing Aaron Hill and Alex Rios to fantastic contracts in the same day is considered a horrible idea in Toronto — is laying the blame on alcohol, and banning the sale of it in certain sections of the ballpark for certain games. Personally, I don’t have a problem with any team eliminating the sale of alcohol in their stadiums. Though I like to drink as much as the next guy, I’ve never been a fan of liquor being sold at sporting events. Fans are already hyped up enough at games—the term is short for “fanatics,” not “fanciful well-to-dos.” Adding booze to the equation is like tossing gas on a fire. No, forget the simile. It is tossing gas on a fire. Yes. Metaphor. Bam.
Yet I realize that I’m in the rare when it comes to teetotalling at sporting events. I also realize that liquor sales will never go away, because teams make too much money off of them. This is what is so baffling about Godfrey’s declaration: He's acting like the Blue Jays haven't been capitalizing on drunkenness for years, and that they aren’t partly to blame when situations in the stadium get out of hand. Obviously, people have to be individually responsible for their actions. Furthermore, not everyone who buys booze at a Blue Jays game is going to turn into a raging moron. But what exactly is the team expecting when it sells alcohol to 19- to 30-year-old men with money and testosterone to spare, and hires 16-year-olds for security? A church choir gathering? Let's be honest, here. Most professional sports teams long ago abandoned the notion of sporting event as family affair. Mom and Dad haven't just been priced out by corporations and the individually wealthy; they’ve been chased out by the hooligan who can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t see cursing and getting shit-faced drunk in public as acceptable social behavior. All I could think while I was watching the disruptions on Friday night was how terrified my son— a terrific Blue Jays fan — would have been in that environment. I blame Paul Godfrey for that reality just as much as I blame Pally McDrinksalot.
My original plan was to attend all three games between the Blue Jays and the Red Sox, but I ended up only going to the Friday and Sunday games. I was too rattled, and disgusted, by the events of the Home Opener to attend the Saturday afternoon game. The Sunday game was a thousand times better, in terms of fan behavior. It felt like a normal sporting event, if such a thing exists. I never had anyone threaten me, or yell at me. Any razzing about being a Red Sox fan was friendly, and done with a smile. That being said, after the game, a drunken buffoon wearing a Vernon Wells jersey repeatedly called my friend a "piece of shit" and challenged him to a fight because he was wearing his Red Sox gear. That was this guy's reasoning for verbally abusing and wanting to hurt another human being: He had on unacceptable clothing. Some Torontonians rallied to our cause, but for me it was too little, too late. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, around 4:30 p.m., in the heart of a city known for its diversity and its tolerance. It was Toronto.