Thursday, April 10, 2008

GRABIA: LORD OF THE POP FLIES

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.

(Deuce of Davenport figures the Jays' move is little more than good P.R. The photo's from Hum-and-Chuck, which will welcome us as liberators. Much obliged to Drunk Jays Fans for the link.)

13 comments:

Dennis Prouse said...

I also dislike the heavy sale of alcohol at the games, but as you say that genie is now out of the bottle, pardon the pun. The huge profit from beer sales is now built into the business model.

Jim Rome would have referred to the goof in the Vernon Wells jersey as, "Likes-To-Fight Guy". Vernon Wells jersey or not, the dude was clearly not a real baseball fan, as real baseball fans don't get into stupid confrontations like that. Rather, he was just part of that cohort of young buttheads whose primary form of recreation is getting hammered and going to big public events. You see them at football games, on Canada Day on Parliament Hill, etc. etc. My contempt for them knows few bounds.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

I don't think selling alcohol is the whole problem: the majority of people (like myself) who enjoy a couple of drinks at the ballpark don't cause problems, and the beer costs so much that you'd have to spend a small fortune to get drunk. Most of the drunkards probably were already well on their way by the time they got to the game (or tried to smuggle in their own booze). What might be a better plan would be having more stadium security and kicking people out when they start to cause problems: also, they could follow the bar model and discriminate more on who they sell beer to (i.e. not those already drunk). It's unfortunate that your experience was so bad though, Andy...that's pretty embarrassing for those of us who support the Jays.

Navin Vaswani said...

i was up in the 500s as well. jays fans were fighting jays fans. it was ridiculous. it's not the alcohol that is the problem. it's just idiots being idiots. sure, alcohol fuels the fire, but man, what can you do?

twonie tuesday's should never have been introduced in the first place

Jonathan said...

Ok, before we get too apologetic here, try wearing a Vernon Wells jersey into Fenway sometime.

I don't see the hypocrisy here - I think Toronto crowds had earned a little leeway (although they still don't sell beer after the 7th), and now that's gone. What did Godfrey expect? Probably that Toronto fans were going to behave like Toronto fans always have. Now this seems like a pretty typical and appropriate response. More than going totally dry at least- it's a three hour game, geez..

Stoeten said...

From Alberta!? You don't say! I could hardly tell.

Look, this was obviously a very bad first impression of the Toronto Blue Jays experience, and I'm sorry for your bad time, Andy, but this story is very far from typical. The people who told you about a "perfect storm" were exactly right, and the jackasses who continued the fighting "trend" on Tuesday are most likely just copycat idiots hoping to get on YouTube. Fans are generally TOO complacent at Jays games. This was simply a bad mixture of poor security and idiots. And dude, there are alcohol-free sections for families. Let's not go nuts with the boo-hooing and the prohibition here. I mean, we're hardly verging on Buffalo Bills territory.

And how about booing Godfrey for selling ticket to Sox and Tigers fans before the box office in Toronto opened? Or maybe the years of interminable mediocrity? You seem to have got a strong enough impression of him after one game to not like him, so what's with shitting on Toronto fans who've had him running our team all these years for booing the guy?

sager said...

Don't get on Andy, he made his point clearly and concisely and did a damn fine job giving his impressions of the night. He acknowledged straight up that it was his first time out; that's why I wanted to hear what he had to say, because I have a deep respect for the perspective he brings to the table. He made a strong point.

Anonymous said...

this guy is a fucking pussy. he's from boston?!?! has he ever DARED wear a red sox jersey to the right field bleachers in yankee stadium? fuck him. there's no crying in baseball.

Ferguson Gretzposito said...

I prefer to taunt Red Sox fans using my superior intellect:

"Hey, The Red Sox suck!"

"I can't hear you with these two rings in my ears!"

"You wear rings on your finger, jackass"

Tyler said...

I'm Andy's friend who was wearing the Red Sox gear. The guy on me after the game was hammered out of his mind and there to fight. Whether he's a baseball fan or not, Ted Rogers let him in the door, sold him beer and almost had him assault one of his other customres. During the game, I went to see a friend and her family who were sitting in the 200's and there was some drunken asshole up there just abusing some other family wearing Sox hats. It should be unacceptable. It's one thing if you want to exchange in a jocular exchange...it's quite another when it basically boils down "I'm hammered out of my fucking mind. Go fuck yourself".

I don't know where the hell security was but they need to get the alcohol under control. I can take getting razzed for wearing a Sox shirt - I can more than handle myself in an exchange of team related insults: "The sporting team from my area is better than the sporting team from your area" and all that. With that said, I've probably been to at least 100 MLB games in Boston, Detroit, New York, Toronto, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Montreal and Boston over the past five years and I've never seen as many drunken assholes as I saw on Opening Day and at the Sunday game.

sager said...

Tyler, well, that sucks .... my experiences with being a fan of the visiting team aren't as rich and varied, but giving people crap is uncool.

You should have been there last Aug. when TFC played Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy the same week the Yankees were in town. There were tons of people in Beckham shirts and Yankees caps and I didn't say one effing word; I just felt sorry for them.

G. Ottaway said...

why are americans so quick to assume that canada and toronto are into tolerance and diversity. especially a red sox fan like this guy. toronto is one of the biggest cities in north america (bigger than boston) and it has the same issues and problems as big american cities have. so what the fuck is with this "oh my god canadians are fucking gangsters" shit that this fellow is talking about. why is he surprised?

sager said...

... especially a Red Sox fan like this guy...

You're kind of guilty of the same thing you're raising by assuming to know about Mr. Grabia based on what baseball team he supports. For one, he's Canadian!

Jonathan said...

Let's see...300+ languages, over half of all residents foreign-born, and a violent crime rate a fraction of any major American city. Yeah, I have NO idea how Toronto could have gotten a reputation for being "into" tolerance, diversity and non-violence.

This is kind of like saying I have the same problems as a refugee in the Sudan because neither of us can find a decent apartment.