Last spring, the Toronto Marlies went on an improbably deep run in the American Hockey League playoffs. The team captured, however briefly, the attention of victory-starved Toronto sports fans by making it all the way to the Calder Cup finals, before losing to the Norfolk Admirals. I had the opportunity to watch a game in each round of the playoff run, and enjoyed the terrific atmosphere in the Ricoh Colliseum. Fans were actually having fun and dared to dream about a championship. It was not to be, but the ride was a good one.
In the summer, the Toronto Argonauts, after having engineered one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent CFL history, lurched through a mediocre season, finishing 9 and 9, only to go on a similar playoff run to the Marlies. The Argos, Toronto's oldest professional sports franchise, knocked off Edmonton and Montreal before demolishing the Calgary Stampeders at home to win the Grey Cup, and become the first Toronto team to win a championship in a few years. True, the CFL has lost some of its lustre in the GTA over the years, and is a small league, but the enthusiasm at Grey Cup time was fun and exactly what the city needed.
This weekend, the Toronto Rock opened the NLL season with a rare two-game road trip to Alberta and swept both games, defeating the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday night and squeaking out a win against the Edmonton Rush on Sunday. The Rock are perenial powerhouses in the NLL, although last year was a disappointment, exiting the playoffs early: this early fast start indicates that the Rock are going to be in the thick of the battle again this year. A championship is, right now at least, a real possibility.
In the off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays have made several significant moves, acquiring several good-calibre players in trades and free agency. They have reached into the recent past to re-hire John Gibbons to manage the team. Gibbons's strength as a manager, apparently, is in managing pitchers, especially the bull pen, Toronto's problem area for the last few years. With the new manager, new players, and a talented young core of returnees, the Jays have been installed by Las Vegas oddsmakers as the early favourites to win the World Series. That's a long way off, to be sure, but the early signs are good.
All this seems to bode well for long-suffering Toronto sports fans. With one championship already in the bag, good possibilites in the NLL and AHL, a promising baseball season ahead, do they dare dream of turning around the constant pall of losing ??
Sports is nothing if not an exercise in optimism. There's always another game or another season to strive for redemption. If only life were really like that.
Oh yes, the Leafs, Raptors and FC .... well, for the Leafs, it's a short 48 game season. Last year, they were a good team for about the first 50 games until the wheels fell off, so maybe, just maybe they can duplicate the performance and actually make the playoffs. The Raptors, after an abysmal start, are playing with much more confidence and, as of this writing, are roughly 6 games out of a playoff spot. It will be a long shot, but the playoffs are possible this year. And as for FC ... the less we talk about a losing team in a 4th rate soccer league, the better.
Keep the faith, Toronto. We just might be taken seriously as a "big league" city after all. Dare to dream !!