Hockey season is still just a scent in the air for most, though one that gets stronger with every passing day. This time of year still belongs to the birds, and for a moment last month, the Rogers Centre turf was the center of attention for a reason other than being an injury hazard. On August 29, as fans rained hats down from all corners of the stadium, the warning track looked like a scene you’d be more likely see at center ice just down the street at the Air Canada Centre. What Toronto fans know as a hockey tradition, the hat-trick, seemingly transcended the game of hockey right before the eyes of every sports fan in the city, as the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion hit his third home run of the game. Listen to the call: “It’s a Canadian tradition”.
Everyone is familiar with the term, so it may come as a surprise that the history of the ritual itself is slightly debated when it comes to the sport of hockey. Despite various claims to its origins, the Hockey Hall of Fame accepts Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto as the birthplace of the modern “hat-trick”. While the details of that particular tale are well documented, one would have a much more difficult time tracing the origins of the hat-trick in baseball. Unlike in hockey, the term is not automatically applied when a player hits three home runs in a game and fans do not automatically rain New Era caps from the bleachers. If a player in New York or Chicago were to accomplish this same feat right now, it’s a safe bet that no hats would scatter the field in his honour. Unless of course, these stadiums just happened to be filled with thousands of vacationing Canadians, the majority of which conveniently wearing protection from the sun on their heads. This is pretty humorous considering that the term hat-trick is first associated with the sport of cricket, and cricket shares many more similarities with baseball than it does hockey. You’d think that baseball would be the obvious first North-American jump for the term – not so. When you consider these facts, the events that transpired in Toronto on August 29, 2015 are quite remarkable. It turns out that the hat-trick may have been a Toronto tradition before it was a Canadian tradition. Apologies to the Habs fan reading this blog for passing that tidbit on.
In a city where the Maple Leafs have long been the punchline of the sporting community, this example of a hockey tradition transcending the sport is significant. Don’t be mistaken: Leafs fans are Jays fans and Jays fans are Leafs fans. With the combination of the rich hockey history that the city of Toronto has, the origins of the modern hat-trick being tied to Maple Leafs Gardens, the recent success of the Blue Jays and Encarnacion’s milestone on this particular night - it’s clear that this ritual could not have been started just anywhere. For a city that often struggles with identity in sports, that has to count for something and it should not be ignored. It should be recognized and celebrated. Especially considering that the Blue Jays are Canada’s team and all of Canada is audience to the transformation of its largest city. Though, it should be noted that this crossover ritual has existed in this city prior to its 2015 Edwin incarnation.
Every hat that rained down from the Rogers Centre stands when Edwin unloaded his hat-trick bomb was really a cry for help from a playoff hockey-starved city. It shows the raw passion of an often criticized fan base, and that Toronto’s spirit has not been crushed in the downtime since its last professional championship all the way back in 1993 (with all due respect to the Argos & Rock). Toronto is still a hockey town, even when the city is in the midst of uniting over its baseball team. Even when the Leafs haven’t won a playoff series in a decade. For Leafs fans there should be no more powerful a reminder of just what their city is and can be when it has a winning team, and just how quickly the dark times can be forgotten.
Photo courtesy: MLB.com.
Let’s Go Blue Jays!
Statistics, media courtesy: (NBC Sports: http://scores.nbcsports.msnbc.com/nhl/league.asp?type=hat), Major League Baseball: MLB.com, Hockey Hall of Fame: hhof.com, Youtube: youtube.com)