Blue Jays back in Toronto represents much more than just baseball for fans
It’s become a mantra in baseball — especially in these parts — that fans want their teams to play meaningful games. Looking ahead for the Toronto Blue Jays, it’s hard to conceive of a more meaningful week of baseball.
There are the obvious on-field and off-field considerations of the coming week, as the team plays critical games against some of its key competition for a playoff berth, and baseball’s trade deadline approaches at week’s end.
But even larger than that is the team’s long-awaited return home. To the Rogers Centre, to Toronto, and to Canada. It presents the first opportunity for many to see the Blue Jays in person in almost two years, and finally allows the team itself to settle into its true home after almost two seasons as baseball nomads.
The meaning of the homestand that begins Friday runs deeper than baseball. As we all move cautiously into a post-vaccinated phase of life under the threat of COVID-19, the ability for baseball fans to return to the ballpark will be a significant moment on the road back to whatever “normal” is now.
As individuals, it means returning to something that brings us joy, but more than that, it also brings us together for a communal moment, the likes of which we wouldn’t have experienced since our lives became consumed with social distancing and self-isolation. There are few experiences that can give us the feeling of shared passion and unlikely community as sitting amongst thousands of strangers who all feel like friends as you rise in unison to root for the home team.
Ask yourself when the last time was that you hugged or high-fived a stranger, and it was likely tied to some sort of sporting event. Though we’ll likely still be keeping to ourselves in the physical sense when in the stands for the foreseeable future, the assembly as fans itself is a step forward.
Beyond the more personal meaning of baseball’s return, having the Blue Jays come home helps to unearth the deeper roots of the team’s connection to the fans and the community. The distance that fans felt from the team last season as they were unable to cross the border, and forced to play wherever they could was hard, but looking on helplessly this year as fans returned to ballparks in the United States, and the Blue Jays were treated like visitors in their own “home” ballparks provoked a greater sense of urgency to bringing the team back to the warm embrace of their own crowds.