Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson signs for fans from western Canada who made the trip to Seattle. Photo: Cliff Shim/CBC
Blue Jays fans turn Seattle road trip into makeshift home series
By Lauren Smith
To the thousands of fans wearing blue, Seattle became Toronto over the weekend.
Just as they do every year when the Blue Jays visit Safeco Field, crowds of Canadian baseball supporters trekked south across the border.
For Blue Jays players and fans alike, the trip by many created a sort of home-away-from-home series against the Mariners to cap a week-long road trip.
“We feel like we’re in Toronto,” said Ashley Durning, who traveled from Langley, BC, for the three-game series.
Durning, 28, and friend David Ansley, 29, sat behind home plate sporting Josh Donaldson jerseys and Blue Jays hats.
The two blended well with the masses — who were mostly wearing blue — and added to the chorus of Toronto fans that drowned out Seattle’s faithful on the final day of the series Sunday.
“The Mariners fans, they try to get loud, but the Jays fans kind of overpower them,” Durning said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
When Donaldson hit a two-run home run off of LHP James Paxton (Ladner, BC) in the first inning, the crowd roared.
Eight innings later, when Jose Bautista hauled in a routine fly ball to end the game — and the series — with a win, Toronto’s players were again met with jubilation.
“It’s cool to see,” Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak said. “It really does feel like a home game out there.”
Safeco Field set a season attendance record Saturday on the second day of the series, with 45,480 in the stadium.
“The Jays travel really well no matter what stadium they’re in,” Ansley said.
Specifically in Seattle. During the past three years, attendance at Safeco has averaged more than 39,000 per game when the Blue Jays have been in town.
Keeping with that trend, the stadium was packed the past three days with Toronto fans, eclipsing Safeco’s average attendance per game this season, which is less than 25,000.
Not even inflated prices could deter Blue Jays fans. Ticket prices more than doubled in some sections during the series compared to Seattle’s series against Minnesota earlier in the week.
Prices will drop again when the Mariners host Detroit next week, but the hike didn’t appear to diminish Canadian ticket sales.
Durning said getting a seat on the main level — which ranged between $66-175 during the series — was still a task.
“Last year, we didn’t have any problems getting tickets,” she said. “This year, when we first went to buy, they were sold out.”
Smoak, who played five seasons with the Mariners between 2010-14, said numbers always jumped when the Blue Jays visited.
But, he said last weekend’s crowds were the biggest he’s seen for the cross-border series.
“It wasn’t like it is now,” Smoak said. “I feel like the reason why is because of what we’ve done (in Toronto) the past couple of years.”
Success has led to even bigger turnout, Smoak said. He wasn’t the only player to notice.
Taylor Motter, who was traded to Seattle from Tampa Bay in November, said Friday he was told prior to the series what the atmosphere would be like.
He said Toronto’s fan numbers at Safeco were double what he thought they would be.
Jarrod Dyson, who the Mariners acquired from Kansas City during the offseason, said he was shocked by the amount of blue in the crowd.
“They’re pretty loud,” Dyson said after the first game of the series. “I felt like we were in a playoff game.”
Durning, who recently moved to Langley from Calgary, has traveled to other stadiums to see Toronto play on the road.
She’s been to a Yankees game in New York, but it wasn’t as packed with Blue Jays fans.
Cleveland and Detroit are also close by, but Smoak said Seattle has a draw from western Canada that other cities don’t.
“This is like a vacation home for the Jays,” Durning said.
Certainly, a home away from home.
“Everyone in Seattle has been very happy, and very good hosts while we’ve been here,” Ansley said.
Though the Mariners had some between-innings sketches planned to poke fun at Toronto fans, both countries were represented in pregame festivities. Both national anthems were played prior to each game.
Ansley said he enjoyed hearing Canadian fans continuing to sing the national anthem on the streets outside of the stadium postgame. That — and no doubt two Blue Jays wins — made for a good trip.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said.