With the Jays knocked out of the playoffs, Stacey May Fowles writes about a great Jays season, and win or lose, why we care so deeply.
There was a moment in last night’s Game Six, during the seventh inning, when Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Pillar offered his sleeve to teammate Ben Revere to wipe the blood from his arm. Revere, or “Benny” as Jays manager John Gibbons adorably called him during an in-game interview, had just miraculously launched himself into the air against the wall in left field, robbing Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez of what would have been game-changing double. Revere tore the skin on his arm in the process, and as Pillar casually gestured to offer to help the left fielder with his injury, I thought, “This is exactly why I love baseball.”
All of a sudden I realized that the real reason I love baseball is because it lets me see people be good to each other.
This is no small realization. I have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why exactly I care so much about this slow, silly, complicated game where men wear belts and literally run around in circles. I’ve tried to understand why it makes me feel all the intense feelings I do, why walking into a ballpark—any ballpark—has a unique capacity to clear out the buzzing in my head, to relieve me of anxiety, and to make me feel better about how truly terrible the world can be at times. I have thought about why I have so much affection for baseball because I feel like in some ways I owe it that consideration—this totally inexplicable thing that, at the risk of sounding extreme, came into my life and saved me. This thing that made so many things better when nothing else would.
And even though it felt devastating and unfair and not what Jays fans had all hoped for, I think last night’s eliminating loss to the Kansas City Royals finally gave me the very simple answer I needed. It finally made me understand. I really just want a place to see people be good to each other.
The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays were special. This is an undeniable fact, though trying to explain exactly why they’re special feels like an overwhelming task. Beyond their obvious athletic skills and achievements (I feel like I’ve seen Kevin Pillar fly a million times) there were dozens of tiny stories from these disparate men that filled our newsfeeds, that were passed around from fan to fan in the interest of attaching ourselves more and more to them with each passing day. There were surprising rookie ascents, solid veteran performances, and a trilingual journeyman first baseman who continually surprised. There were heart-warming sound bites of the appreciation they had for each other. There were even cute and colourful stories of popcorn in lockers, of team bathrobes and scooters, of affectionately assigned nicknames.
Roberta Osuna was the 20-year-old pitching miracle, sending money back to Mexico for his brothers’ and sister’s schooling. Josh Donaldson was the kid whose dad went to prison, and who was subsequently raised by a single mom to not only to excel academically, but to rise to his now (fingers crossed) American League MVP status. R.A. Dickey was the erudite literary scholar, a survivor of trauma who revamped his pitch and his life to bounce back from his openly discussed depression. Marcus Stroman was the mythical comeback kid, a literal chip tattooed on his shoulder to remind himself to achieve what so many people said he couldn’t. And José Bautista was that reliable storied slugger who put in the time, the man who proved he was the hero we all knew him to be.
Watching this team celebrate their wins in August, and then in September, and finally in a city- and country-unifying October was nothing short of exhilarating. There is an abundance of photos of their seemingly endless hugs and back pats, their exuberant congratulatory faces, their obvious support for one another. And watching how tightly knit they became over 162 games, and then over 173 games, in turn brought all of us closer together. We all sang in unison. People in ball caps said hello on the subway, waved kindly from their front porches, made “Go Jays” small talk in elevators, and honked from their passing cars. I have smiled at and talked to more strangers in the past eight weeks than I think I have in my entire life, watched people become justifiably enamored with this team, and call themselves fans of a game they never would have thought was for them. I’ve seen people come back to baseball after they’d long left it behind, and find its pleasures were still there, exactly as they were left. In a world where people can certainly be cruel, I’ve witnessed this city be good to each other over a 40 man roster and a line up of nine that they’ve never even met.
In this fresh haze of knowing it’s all over now, I recall the last few months as a fantastic blur of Gatorade bucket dumps, champagne and Bud Light baths. If you’d told me in 2010, when I was watching meaningless games in the Rogers Centre with record low attendance numbers, I never would have believed this outcome would have been possible. In late July the Jays had more losses than wins, and we had no real idea that we would get here—and now we suffer our sadness hangovers after being eliminated in game six of the ALCS—and this only seems to add to the extreme emotion. The Jays evolved into that quintessential ragtag group of overcoming underdogs, constantly battling their way onward via their will and skill. They were the kind of team that felt like they were winning even if they were tied, or a run or two behind, because they always made the impossible seem possible.
When the game ended last night, after we’d all dried our tears with napkins and shook hands goodnight, the King Street bar I was in emptied immediately. I mournfully hailed a cab, and was grateful the driver understood I needed a few minutes to cry over what was now the end of the best baseball season I’ve ever experienced. “Go Jays,” he said meekly as we pulled up to my house. I understand the absurdity of shedding real tears over something so seemingly insignificant, but one of the things that baseball does is give you permission to have authentic—even irrational—emotions over something you know is objectively meaningless. It allows you to completely invest yourself in an outcome that is outside your control. In life it’s a rare thing to care about something that much, and in even in the painful, harsh light of the true end of this season, I’m so damn grateful to have been along for the ride.
It has been a deep pleasure watching, writing and talking about this team over the last seven months. It has been a blessing to share their stories with other Torontonians, and to watch an entire city fall so deeply in love with them. Baseball may just be a silly game, but this year it was one that brought us together in a way this city hasn’t seen for a long time. It let me see people be good to each other.
This team, they were a gift. And I am so damn grateful. See you all April 4, 2016.