the hands of he who remains the best

These are heady times for the Toronto Blue Jays. Less than one week ago, the Jays sold out their home opener in under an hour. Realistically speaking, tickets were sold long in advance of the February 15th single-game sales opportunity to season ticket and package holders, but the facts are the facts: the first game of the year, featuring the newest Blue Jays R.A. Dickey, was a hot commodity.

Selling out Opening Day is one thing, running into angry mobs of fans who desperately want to give you their money is another, altogether new thing, for the Toronto Blue Jays. Such was the state of affairs when the Blue Jays offered their “Ballpark Passes” for 2013. The ballpark pass entitles the pass holder to a ticket in the 500 level (aka the bleeders) for 80 home games (all but Opening Day, naturally) for a very, very low price.

Demand for the season pass was tremendous, resulting in some brief heartache for fans. The deluge of bargain seekers overwhelmed the online infrastructure, causing delays and a few disappointed fans. Most fans I corresponded with noted the headaches were minimal and, after a few struggles and a significant exception, got their passes after a little diligence and a lot of patience.

Increased demand for a baseball team is good for business. The Blue Jays report (unofficially) that ticket sales are up across all segments: season tickets, multi-game packages big and small, ballpark passes, the full assortment. A far cry from where the team stood just five months ago.

It was at the end of October when the ugly John Farrell incident drew to a close. The Blue Jays let their chosen manager walk away while under contract, receiving a player back in compensation for their trouble. At the time, your intrepid blogger felt thusly:

The optics of the situation are pretty hellish for the Toronto Blue Jays…the stink of this will take a long time to rinse clean. The tourist columnists and generalist trolls will have a field day and the talk radio callers might actually fill the Rogers Centre with the foam from their mouths.

There is no doubt the Blue Jays sensed a crisis of consumer confidence rushed through their fanbase. It wasn’t long after that the franchise-remaking trade with the Marlins came down the pike. The Blue Jays didn’t make this trade because of the clustertastrophe that was 2012 and its ugly coda, but the powers that be certainly okayed the sudden influx of contract money eyeing the ugly end to the season wearily.

Their rotation revamped and a franchise player like Jose Reyes in place, the Blue Jays opportunistically filled a hole in left field when they bought low on Melky Cabrera, all leading to the pièce de résistance: the acquisition of R.A. Dickey (complete with contract extension) – the reigning NL Cy Young winner and newly installed ace of the Jays staff.

When the Blue Jays hosted their annual State of the Franchise get together in early February, general manager Alex Anthopoulos was a feted as a conquering warlord. This was the Blue Jays team set to topple the giants of the AL East. This was the year to end all the suffering and flashback Fridaying of years gone by. The team even revamped its coaching staff, replacing the presidential chin of the perfect candidate Farrell with the beloved, shaggy dog charm of John Gibbons.

With all the additional interest comes a brand new set of expectations. While the Vegas bookies installed the Blue Jays as early World Series favorites, their job is coaxing bets, not predicting or projecting the future. That task falls to the advanced statistical measures such as PECOTA and ZiPS. As it stands right now, PECOTA is less than bullish on the Blue Jays chances for triumph in 2013, projecting the Jays for just 85 wins. This isn’t to say they will 85 games and not one more, but wariness of the Blue Jays future is wholly warranted.

The unpredictably of knuckleballers, the Melky Cabrera wildcard, the health of the rotation and the defensive questions at all positions aside from third base are entirely fair. Can the Blue Jays answer those questions in between the lines? Of course!

Early spring dispatches speak of a confident club, one aware of its new-found position in the AL East catbird seat. More and more national columnists express their belief in the Blue Jays chances in 2013, if a day watching live BP and infield practice are in any way predictive. But the State of the Franchise love-in and the run-up to a pivotal season in club history do not put them in position to leave much to chance. This is team built to win now because he really needs to win now.

Should the Blue Jays falter in 2013, there were will nothing but questions about their future. The club committed huge dollars to players who will either be another year older or staring at free agency, barring a sudden contract extension. The once-vaunted farm system is stripped bare in service of the big push for the big club. If it all goes pear-shaped, the Blue Jays risk squandering all the good will a free-spending winter bought the team. If playoff baseball is indeed in the offing, the burgeoning baseball beast that is the Canadian market will continue to consume all things Blue Jays unabated.

Considering the price tag of five years of Jose Reyes and three years of Mark Buehrle, that risk is noteworthy. Not a risk the Blue Jays didn’t weight heavily. The fans are trying to do their part: supporting their team they love after years of “if YOU come, we will build it” from a formerly frugal front office.

But how many times might this fanbase be bitten before they become shy once again? There is an awful lot riding on 2013 for the Toronto Blue Jays. Their ability to ride the wave of good vibes and capitalize on their massive 2013 investment isn’t make or break…but it is as close as it gets. No pressure, Colby!