Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Every year I think it’s going to feel different and every year it feels exactly the same. Somewhere during the last half dozen outs of what is likely the last game of the season, I start to accept our fate and get hit hard with an inexplicable wave of emotion. It doesn’t matter if the Blue Jays are in the bottom of the East at the end of September, or clinging to their World Series hopes during a thrilling October. It doesn’t matter how much I prepare myself for what I know all too well is coming. My gut always delivers the exact same ominous message.
“Baseball is ending,” it warns. “It will be gone soon.”
This year’s incarnation of our favourite team was incredibly generous to those who desperately fear winter’s dark void. So many times when we could have easily been done, when we were so close to packing our bags and going home, we were gifted with another precious game, another chance to find joy between those white chalk lines. If we managed to have some perspective in that soup of frantic emotions, we knew just how lucky we were to see two playoff runs in succession. We knew that so many teams and fan bases dream of this chance, and that we should, in turn, savour every moment. As much as these wonderful boys in blue have helped us get used to it, playoff hope is actually a rare thing, and the fact that they consistently delivered, kept slogging onward to squeeze out a necessary win, was truly beyond what any of us could have realistically imagined.
More than any other sport, baseball has a luxurious ever-present quality that makes its ultimate end so much harder to bear. It screams its bold, optimistic hello in the spring, and then softly whispers goodbye as the chill of fall sets in. From April to October baseball lingers in the background of our days, playing on tiny radios in our kitchens, accompanying us at our desks or on the long drive, and flickering on our television screens as we unwind. We don our blue caps and crack our summer beers, slather ourselves in sunscreen and lounge during those sunny days at the ballpark, the season always feeling deceptively long when there’s another day for a much-needed win.
This year our winning team and their talent was familiar, but their impact was no less inspiring. Josh Donaldson kept wowing us with his MVP skill and amusing, stylish bravado. Edwin Encarnacion became even more our consistent, game-winning home run king. Jose Bautista again proudly courted league-wide controversy, securing his defiant boss status with a long stare and a gentle laying down of his bat. Marco Estrada and JA Happ stunned us with their solidity, Osuna continued to be a bright young star on the mound, and Kevin Pillar stayed airborne. We were graced with new-to-us ecstatic, sweaty Jason Grilli fist pumps, and were reminded that all those signature Marcus Stroman inspirational phrases ultimately pay off. The team we loved became the team we loved even more, delivering on all the promise they had when the season was still young.
Sometimes I think the true cruelty of baseball is that it disappears at the exact moment we need it most—when the days get shorter and colder, and the hopeless drudgery of another winter drives us inside. After so many blissful months where there was always a score to check on, standings to be concerned about, and players to discuss, one final out and it all just disappears. When yesterday’s very last game was done, I immediately turned off the broadcast and walked away, not wanting to see any evidence of Cleveland’s joy or Toronto’s sorrow. I wanted to remember this season in its finest moments—an Encarnacion extra-innings wildcard game home run, a Josh Donaldson slide into home on an error for the ALDS sweep—and not close ups of the forlorn faces of all these men I so faithfully supported.
“Why does this make me all so sad?” I asked my partner when he dutifully took me for a post-game meal and drinks, knowing that the last game day is, for me, one of the worst days of the year. “You’re sad because you belong to some bizarre church where four months a year you’re not allowed to worship,” he thoughtfully replied.
Though every season’s abrupt end delivers a dull ache, this one is certainly accentuated by the looming fate of some of the Blue Jays’ most beloved players. As much as we tried not to think about it, our heroes will very likely be leaving us, and every pitch and at-bat felt weighted with that coming loss. What will happen to this team? What will happen to storied survivor RA Dickey, the man who brought us his thoughtful, bookish, irrepressibly positive approach to the game? What will happen to our hero Bautista, a player who is easily the face of the Toronto Blue Jays, the team’s identity so intimately linked to who he is and all he has accomplished? Like the rumours suggest, could Encarnacion stay, or will he too inevitably and excruciatingly end up in someone else’s uniform? We brace ourselves for this winter knowing it will bring us its own special brand of anxiety and melancholy, without the benefit of another game played to act as a salve.
Yet with all the uncertainty, misery, and yes, complaining that baseball can bring, I have seen and will always believe in the genuine good it does for people. We all bring our personal approach and love to it, and use it as a way to get through the worst of our days. Without any exaggeration, I have heard people tell me baseball saved them when they most needed saving, how it gave them something to hold onto when there was nothing else to be found. It is the structure and community we so desperately need when we feel untethered and isolated. It is the potential and faith we lack in other areas of our lives. It can be incredibly healing even when it is at its most upsetting. In fact, it is one of those rare places where cynics don’t scoff at the idea of gratitude in the face of loss.
I am indeed unbelievably thankful for this team. They have, in both their small and monumental ways, deepened my love of baseball more than I could have ever thought possible. Their narratives, their triumphs, their love for each other—it has been such a gift to be able to experience all of that from my humble seat in the stands. I know that as the soreness that was yesterday’s loss starts to fade, I’ll feel that gratitude more acutely, long for another game desperately, and eagerly wait for that fresh start towards the end of February. In fact I’m more than sure that when pitchers and catchers report again, all of this despair will be a distant memory. (Four months and five days until that first spring training game, friends.)
In the wake of this very real disappointment, take all the time you need to be sad. Feel the pain of that last night’s loss, the loss of the season, and the loss of our very real World Series hopes for 2016. Lament the terrible yet predictable end of baseball, and worry about what the cold months ahead will bring. But always remember this; baseball can indeed break your heart, but it will always, without fail, find a way to make it whole again.