Longtime members of the Toronto Blue Jays have come to expect an overwhelming amount of support in the stands for their annual trip to the Pacific Northwest. With British Columbia a two-hour drive away from Seattle, it's become commonplace for throngs of Canadians on the West Coast to take over Safeco Field in support of their country's lone major-league team.
And yet, even the longest tenured members of the Blue Jays were left speechless by the atmosphere their West Coast fan base helped create during Monday's series-opening contest against the Mariners. In a game that meant so much to the playoff hopes of both sides, the enormous contingent of Blue Jays fans turned Safeco Field into Rogers Centre West, and the visitors then rode that playoff-like atmosphere to a crucial 3-2 victory.
"I've never seen anything like it. It’s like a home game," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons - who's experienced the Seattle invasion many times during his two stints managing in Toronto - told reporters. "I guarantee (it helped us). We could hear them out here the whole time.
"These Western Canadian fans are something special. They're hard-nosed, and they love you."
While the sizable contingent of hometown Mariners fans were loud in their own right and did their best to give Seattle a home-field advantage, the noisy crowd was decidedly pro-Toronto throughout the night. Never was that more evident than Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada - who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning - receiving a thunderous ovation as he exited in the eighth that prompted him to wave to the crowd.
Although it's not new for fans of visiting teams to take over ballparks on the road, the swarm of Canadians in Seattle has taken on a life of its own in the last few seasons. Many Blue Jays players look forward to these games because of the rowdy atmosphere, and the importance of this particular series in Seattle only heightened the crowd's effect on the visitors Monday night.
"The best way to describe it (the atmosphere) is overwhelming, emotional," outfielder Kevin Pillar said. "To get that type of support from BP, that scene during the national anthem, you can’t help but get emotional and fired up.
"I give them a lot of credit for bringing the energy tonight," he continued. "We just fed off that."