The Blue Jays Finally Return to Canada
TORONTO – When the coronavirus sent the world on lockdown in the spring of 2020, the area surrounding the Rogers Center in the heart of downtown Toronto became something of a desolate wasteland. The familiar sounds of the game-day crowds and screaming scalpers have been replaced by socially distant outdoor yoga groups, residents taking daily walks with their pets, and occasional tennis enthusiasts working out. their foreheads against the brick wall adjacent to the stadium entrance.
If a tumbleweed had passed through, no one would have noticed.
For 161 regular season and playoff games over two seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays left their home and played without a real home after the Canadian government rejected the team’s request to play in Toronto during the pandemic, citing concerns about cross-border travel to and from the United States.
While all of the other Major League Baseball teams remained in their hometowns, welcoming fans to its stadiums at the start of this season, the only Canadian team in the majors remained on the road, playing games first. supposed home at the tiny TD Ballpark in Dunedin. , Florida, and then Sahlen Field, a refurbished AAA-class baseball stadium in Buffalo, NY. In mid-July, the Jays were finally cleared to return to Canada.
Baseball is a sport of statistics. From batting averages and home runs, to stroke percentage on base and wins over substitution, no sport communicates more through numbers than the American hobby. As the long-dormant downtown Toronto stadium finally came to life on Friday, there was just one number in everyone’s mind: 670.
It had been 670 days since the Blue Jays had played a game at Rogers Center. The number appeared to be everywhere on Friday, with shirted team members referring to the team’s social media account reminding fans how long they’ve waited for this reunion.
Officially, a baseball game was played in Toronto between the Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals. But what happened inside the stadium on Friday was something more. The pandemic has robbed most people of their daily routines. As they return to their old way of life, some bits of normalcy are picked up along the way. The stadium was packed with many of these pieces on Friday.
Nearly three hours before the first pitch, George Springer and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took turns throwing baseballs out of the park during batting practice. In the meantime, they laughed and danced with director Charlie Montoyo, soaking up a return to Canada. On the pitch, team president and CEO Mark Shapiro observed team employees and members of the media closely, welcoming them back to the stadium.
The Jays came back to a very different team. When they last played at Rogers Center in 2019, fans bid a moving farewell to first baseman Justin Smoak – who was playing his last game for Toronto – and the team ended a season 67-95. They returned with Guerrero establishing himself as one of the game’s most exciting stars, a lineup leading the majors in the home circuits and a team with the fourth-best points differential in the American League giving them some success. high hopes for improvement. on a disappointing balance sheet of 51-48.
They also return to a very different world. Under guidelines set by the Province of Ontario in Stage 3 of its plans to reopen outdoor venues, the Jays are only allowed 15,000 fans per game (roughly 30% of the stadium’s capacity of 49 286 people). Level 500, usually reserved for diehards and sometimes belligerent fans, has remained closed. The cut-out cardboard fans occupying certain sections of this level were just a reminder that normality remains a relative term.
Masks were mandatory for all fans (although some took their chances by wearing them well below the level expected on their face). WestJet’s cockpit, a central court standing area for the loudest fans, has been reduced to a maximum of six socially distant people at a time.
The crowd, however, felt far larger than the listed attendance of 13,446. Fans lined up long lines at each team store. The Springer and Hyun-jin Ryu jerseys appeared to be the best sellers (giving the Guerrero Jr. sea of jerseys some competition). The $ 25 price tag didn’t stop many fans ordering Canadian stadium must-haves: poutine and beer.
Just as the team returns to their hometown, fans have also been reunited. Groups of people jostled each other at every corner of the stadium. Some indulged in full hugs. Others simply shook hands and stopped briefly to catch up.
After a pre-game soundtrack that included “The Boys Are Back in Town” and Coldplay’s Chris Martin singing the chorus to “Homecoming,” the Blue Jays finally took to the field with healthcare workers from Toronto General Hospital. greeting them while waving the team flags.
This stadium has seen its fair share of iconic moments, from Joe Carter’s home run at the 1993 World Series to Jose Bautista’s emphatic beat against the Texas Rangers in a 2015 Division Series game. Those moments rocked the stadium. to his heart. The standing ovation the Blue Jays received when they stepped onto the pitch on Friday couldn’t match that decibel level, but a sense of euphoria and relief swept through the stadium. From the media section to the fans in the stands, there were very few dry eyes when a montage of fans played on the large Jumbotron in the middle of the pitch. A release of emotion followed with the first of many “Let’s Go, Blue Jays” chants.
For the hours that followed, it was just another typical baseball game on a busy Friday night at the Rogers Center, with a few standing ovations and “MVP” chants for Guerrero Jr., who received the biggest reception in the game. crowd all night.
The Jays officially returned home at 7:28 p.m. when Ross Stripling offered Whit Merrifield a first pitch strike. A Teoscar Hernandez home run in the second set put the home side on the board. Bo Bichette’s two-run homer in the seventh inning gave Toronto a 6-2 lead. Third baseman Santiago Espinal recorded the final in the 6-4 win with a barehanded grip, delivering a perfect end to a storybook comeback.
After a final standing ovation for the home side, fans dispersed and headed for the exits, with the first game of an 11-game homestand over. Outside the stadium a few minutes later, the sound of honking cars and the rush of overlapping conversations among the departing crowd was a final reminder that the stadium, which had remained dormant for the past two years in memory of an interrupted life, was back to business. .
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