Under the Bleachers: Canada’s Big Year

Under the Bleachers: Canada’s Big Year
Under the Bleachers: Canada’s Big Year

It’s always been a little tough to be a Canadian sports fan. Sure, our hockey players are consistently the best in the world, and we’ve had moments of glory and recognition on the international stage—the ’92 and ’93 World Series, Steve Nash’s back-to-back NBA MVP awards, Mike Weir’s Masters win.  But those moments have been fleeting: the Blue Jays haven’t played a playoff game in 20 years; Steve Nash chased a championship to L.A. and wound up in a total of two playoff games in two years; Weir’s green jacket is over a decade old and he hasn’t won a major since.

Aside from hockey, Canadian fans don’t often have many heroes to cheer for—at least, none with names anyone outside of Canada would recognize. Instead we get stuck putting our national pride aside and rooting for, well, whoever’s good.

No more. The world is finally seeing that we’re not all puck-chasing hosers, that our country is home to world-class talent who, on any given day, can take on the best and win. We can finally root for a who slew of athletes who grew up where did, or live where do, and who proudly compete under the maple leaf.

The hottest team in baseball right now happens to be the only Canadian team, who have won 14 of their last 16 games and swept the other two division leaders in Oakland and Detroit. The Blue Jays have built up a massive lead over the Baltimore Orioles, their closest competition in the AL East, and look like they could finally be headed back to the playoffs. Meanwhile, Mark Buehrle is the first starting pitcher in baseball to reach 10 wins, Edwin Encarnacion tied the American League record for homeruns in May with 16 and was named player of the month, and Jose Bautista is making a case for an MVP trophy by hitting .320 while whacking 14 homeruns and taking a league-best 48 walks in 61 games. Oh, and there’s that jittery kid named Lawrie filling in at second base after completely mastering third base—he just happens to hold a Canadian passport, too.

Even if you’re not a Blue Jays fan, you’ll have no problem cheering on the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto, the Cleveland Indians’ John Axford, or the Colorado Rockies’ Justin Morneau—who’s finally returning to form, putting up his best numbers since 2010, the last year he was an All-Star. 

Canadians have been climbing the rankings of individual sports, too. The Great White North has a couple of rising tennis stars in 23-year-old Milos Raonic and 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard. Raonic was ousted from the quarterfinal of the French Open this week, but is the first Canadian ever to crack the top ten in the world, currently sitting ninth. Bouchard made the semifinal of the French Open, her second consecutive semi in a Grand Slam event, but lost to childhood hero Maria Sharapova—still Bouchard ranks 16th but her rise has been meteoric, gaining 128 positions in less than two years.

But rankings and finishes are just numbers; the most exciting thing about Raonic and Bouchard is that they’re flat out fun to watch, even if you couldn’t care less about tennis. Raonic has one of the most dangerous serves in the world and plays with scary power and precision; Bouchard is all about speed, rushing shots and maintaining a breakneck tempo that opponents struggle to match. It’s impossible to watch either of them and not feel a swell of patriotic pride.

But some of Canada’s most impressive athletes haven’t even made the big time yet. Most experts expect at least three prominent Canadians to go in the first round of the NBA draft later this month. Andrew Wiggins has a good chance to go first overall—making it back-to-back years of Canadian top draft picks—while guards Tyler Ennis and Nik Stauskas will likely be chosen early. Wiggins was making waves all the way back in high school, when his superhuman athleticism pegged him to the top of his draft class years before he was eligible. Ennis and Stauskas made their names in college ball this season, but they both have a ton of potential and will be fun to watch for years to come.

And that’s what so great about Canadian sports these days: our athletes and teams are only getting better. Our lone MLB squad is absolutely scary to even the best baseball teams around; our tennis stars have the skill and tenacity to compete with the world’s best; our future basketball stars are at the very beginning or what are sure to be impressive careers. We have so much to be proud of and even more to look forward to.

How cool is that?

Drew Berner

Drew Berner is a freelance writer born and raised in Toronto and specializing in entertainment, sports and politics. He occasionally collects vinyl records, enjoys hate-watching the Blue Jays, appreciates good beer and great scotch, and goes to sleep each night with 120 lbs. of Great Dane draped over him (it’s a lot more comfortable than it sounds). Follow him on Twitter @DrewBerner for photos of huge dogs, observational humour and assorted sports rage.

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