The Mariners are expecting crowds of more than 40,000 for all three games against the Blue Jays this weekend.
The infiltration began Thursday evening with more than a handful of Toronto Blue Jays shirts, jerseys and hats being spotted at Safeco Field in the Mariners’ 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
But the full onslaught started on Friday in the areas around Pioneer Square and Safeco Field where fans clad in the royal blue Toronto gear filled the sidewalks, restaurants, shops and bars.
In what has now become a tradition, particularly for a series that falls on the weekend, Blue Jays fans from north of the border take over Safeco, making it an odd baseball experience.
Crowds of around 40,000 are expected for all three games this weekend. And a more than half could be Blue Jays fans.
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Chants of “Let’s go Blue Jays!” will often ring out and can’t be muffled by “Let’s go Mariners!” chants in response.
Did it surprise manager Scott Servais?
“Surprise? That would probably be a good way to put it,” he said. “I think I mentioned it last year when we stood out for the national anthem and they played “O Canada.” I turned to Tim Bogar and said, “Oh, s$%^. Wow. There’s a lot of people here and they ain’t rooting for us.’ That’s just the reality of it. It will be a lively weekend again. They have a good club and it’s always competitive games against them. They are at full strength. It looks like all their players are back that were out when we played them last time. We’ll have our hands full.”
The players were a little irked last season. Who can forget Felix Hernandez screaming over and over “This is my house!” after he exited the game following a brilliant performance. But at the same time, the players understand why it happens. Servais didn’t feel the need to warn them about it. There are enough of the from last season and years before to tell the others.
“They know what’s coming,” he said “It’s something you have to deal with here. When you live close to the border, it’s a chance for the people that live in Western Canada to see their Blue Jays and that’s ok.”
For James Paxton, he’s in a different spot. He is from Western Canada and he understands the mindset of those fans making the trek into Seattle. A native of Lander, British Columbia, he grew up around Blue Jays fans. Most of the people in his hometown were Blue Jays fans.
“That’s what is on TV up there,” he said. “It’s all Blue Jays, all the time. There aren’t many Mariners games on. It’s the only team in Canada. It’s Canadian pride.”
And it’s why they flock to Seattle for that one series a year to see their team play.
“It’s obviously easier than going to Toronto,” he said.
Oddly, Paxton wasn’t a Blue Jays fan growing up. He was more of a Mariners fan.
“I didn’t watch a lot of baseball on TV when I was young,” he said. “I just played it. We’d come down here to watch Mariners games once or twice a year. And so that’s who I was a fan of.”
While some players grumble about it and Mariners’ fans get upset about the situation, blaming ownership and the ticket office, Paxton and other players try to embrace it. The idea of playing in a packed house is enjoyable, even if more than half of the people in attendance might be cheering for the other team.
“Every year it’s the same thing,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun because there is so much energy in the building. It’s a bunch of Mariners and a bunch of Blue Jays fans going back and forth, they’re doing the chants. It makes it fun for us. It’s a cool series.”
*** Nelson Cruz (right calf strain) returned to the lineup on Friday night after missing two games.
“He actually felt quite a bit better yesterday, but we wanted to give him a complete day off,” Servais said. “Hopefully, we’ll get him in there for the whole weekend and roll from there.”
Cruz won’t be sprinting around the bases during the series. The Mariners have told him to be careful and not do anything to make it worse.
“He needs to be smart on the bases and control what he’s doing there,” Servais said. “It will be station and station, which it is often times anyway.”
If Cruz can avoid a setback with the calf, the belief is that continued to rehab and treatment will eventually help it get back to full strength.
*** Mitch Haniger (strained oblique) was scheduled to play nine innings of right field with Class AAA Tacoma on Friday night. If all goes well, he will be activated from the disabled list on Saturday or Sunday.