I admit to only being peripherally aware of the Toronto Maple Leafs this past season. That’s not to say that I can’t name most of the players on the team or have a good sense of the narrative. I just wouldn’t sit through a complete game. In fact, I had already made my decision not to watch one until the second round of the playoffs. I guess that means there’s always “next year”.
I don’t know when I soured on the Leafs specifically and hockey in general, but it was cumulative. Like many others my age, playground hockey was central to my childhood. You haven’t lived until you’ve had to dress in layers before putting on your hockey gear, lacing up and hobbling over to the playground in -30 weather to skate on a rough ice surface that you helped clear. In fact, I didn’t play on my first artificial ice surface until I was 11.
Growing up in Montreal meant I was a Habs fan; my hero, Jean Beliveau. I wore number 8 because it was a multiple of 4 and there was no way I was going to get to be 4. My attachment to the Leafs didn’t really happen until adulthood during the Gilmour years. That was a team of grit and determination that I could easily identify with. But over time the team’s increasing levels of mediocrity wore me down.
During the early part of the millennium, I did the games at ACC in the ubiquitous corporate box three or four times a year. I certainly didn’t go to watch hockey; after all, they often lost. In 2019, the idea of making a choice between a couple of grand for decent hockey tickets and a night out versus say a week’s vacation in Cuba is no contest. Hola, Cuba.
I’m just as much a Blue Jays fair weather fan. I was on board for 2015, caught up in the fun the players on the team seemed to be having on the field during their August/September winning ways. When that magic seemed to wane in late 2016, so did my attention.
Big market sports teams should be winners, particularly when they are owned by big business. I expect to be entertained. The narrative is what happens between innings, between periods or between games. I’m not invested in that narrative unless the play engages me.
I’m sure many male boomers have hockey-in-the-winter and pickup baseball-in-the-summer childhood memories like I do. I have a visceral understanding and admiration for the athleticism and skill players of both sports bring to the game, players who are considered old as they enter their thirties.
I’ve reached the point in my life at 60 where I’ve become impatient with profit-oriented corporations who cloak themselves up in whatever “cause-dress” or nationalistic jingoism they think will further their business. I don’t like corporate ownership of sports franchises, franchises who rely on the tribal nature of fans, occasionally offering a winning team but more typically languishing in “tear down” and “rebuild” years, to support their businesses. And consider, every big-league franchise in Toronto is owned by one of two companies.
Right now, I’m invested in the Raptors. A friend of mine, just turned 80, has an astute understanding of the game and I’m learning a lot about basketball nuance in daily conversations. And I’ll start going out to bars to watch games are they move beyond the second round because I love to be part of the energy. And should management and ownership decide that after this season they’re going to rebuild, my attention will go somewhere else.
Business is business. And you don’t expect me to buy your widget when I can get better quality at a lower price elsewhere? Some die-hard fans are aghast at my attitude. But my experiences are more important to me and there is a world of experience-substitutions that I value more.
So rather than angst about whether Leonard is going to re-sign or move on to the Clippers/Lakers, I have some camping trips to plan.