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Future of baseball in Toronto is questioned

April 17, 2010 | 10:04 am

Dwindling crowds in the Rogers Centre and a 15-year playoff drought for the Blue Jays have some wondering whether baseball can survive in Toronto.

A story in Friday's Chicago Sun-Times quoted White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, a former Blue Jay, and Manager Ozzie Guillen lamenting Toronto's hockey-first mentality and said the sparse attendance suggests baseball is dead in Toronto, in contrast to the glory days of the 1992-93 World Series seasons when crowds of 50,000 or more were routine.

And after three straight games against the White Sox with crowds less than 12,200 and Friday night's announced crowd of 14,779 for a game against the Angels, there was this headline blaring across the top of the Toronto Star sports page on Saturday morning: "Are Blue Jays dead to the fans?"

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia thinks not.

"I know they've been struggling with attendance, but I think this is a great sports town," Scioscia said. "If you were around here in the early 1990s, you know what this town is about."

The Blue Jays are off to a solid 7-4 start, but the combination of the trade of ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies this winter and a rise in ticket prices has obviously not sat well with fans. The Sun-Times story went so far as to say that the Blue Jays should do what the Montreal Expos did in 2004 -- leave Canada.

Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells, the longest-tenured Blue Jay, having debuted in August of 1999, believes only the Jays can solve the problem of fan apathy.

“Obviously, we play second fiddle to hockey ... but the thing around here is we as an organization haven’t been consistently competitive in a while,” Wells told the Toronto Star. "We have to establish that we can play consistent baseball and compete. Until that happens, we can’t expect anything from anyone."

Scioscia said Toronto fans need to be patient with the Blue Jays' rebuilding program.

"There's no question that they have some good young players, some good young arms over there," he said. "There's definitely a young nucleus of that club that has the chance to do some special things."

-- Mike DiGiovanna in Toronto