By my count, it has been almost 24 weeks since the Toronto Blue Jays played an “official” game of baseball in a major league stadium. That’s about 166 days since the ninth inning of the final game of the ALCS, roughly 4000 hours since the moment when Troy Tulowitzki popped up, and around 239,000 minutes since Carlos Santana caught the ball and fell to his knees in celebration. It’s been close to six long months since I turned off that broadcast and walked away, signifying the end of a high expectation, entirely thrilling, but inevitably heartbreaking 2016 season.
That deflating, final tableau feels like an eternity ago—I’m not linking to it because no one needs to see that again—and we have subsequently endured what has at times felt like the longest offseason ever. We pulled out our parkas, shoveled our driveways, and trudged through the miserable salt and slush of yet another Toronto winter. We reluctantly welcomed Kendrys Morales, and collectively lamented the loss of Edwin Encarnacion to Cleveland. We argued endlessly about the roster, worried about injuries, and discussed who should play what position moving forward. We rejoiced at the long-awaited news that our hero Jose would be back bat flipping and long staring for at least another season.
In February, our pitchers and catchers signified the return of spring, and we passed the anticipatory time with their workouts, meaningless games, and various amusing sound bites. The communal comfort of baseball Twitter gradually reappeared in our timelines. We were wooed and wowed by the generous beauty that was the World Baseball Classic, with performances from Bautista and Stroman suggesting this season would see them at their best. We habitually scavenged for any available baseball tid-bits, like Josh Donaldson’s new earring and pomsky puppy, Troy Tulowitzki’s adorable son Taz getting some active baseball instruction from his “big brothers” the clubhouse, and Gibbons contractually reaffirming his spot as “baseball dad” for at least another few seasons.
Spring Training was, as always, lovely but long. The boys punctuated it with their annual journey to Montréal, tens of thousands descending on the Big O to enjoy a final pre-season appetizer before the regular season main course. The team was kind enough to give us a final meaningless game celebration, and hopefully a taste of what’s to come. “Everything feels great,” Marcus Stroman said of his performance Friday. “I hope it feels as good as it does right now all season.” (So do I.)
And now, after all that waiting, we’ve made it to the end and the beginning; Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day, 2017. It’s like baseball new year, baseball Christmas, and the nostalgic feeling of the start of the school year all rolled up into one feel good reunion party. And at 3 PM today, it all begins for our team, with the optimism of a fresh start now gracefully slipping into place.
This time of year is known for experts making a great deal of predictions. Conjecturing on how a team or a player will perform is a natural part of the process, and the necessary stuff of fantasy leagues and Vegas odds. (The Jays are currently 25-1 to win it all, in case you were curious.) Our feeds are full of answers to who will come out on top of the American League, who will end up in the Wild Card spot, and who looks like this year’s Cy Young winner or MVP. I certainly love all that buzz after a bleak, baseball-less winter, and don’t fault anyone for gazing into their informed crystal balls. It is, after all, both amusing and their job, and I completely understand the fan impulse to want to relieve some anxiety and go into a season eliminating unknowns.
But one of my absolute favourite things about Opening Day, besides the fact that it means “real” baseball is finally back in our daily lives, is that no one really has any idea how things will ultimately turn out. On this current blank slate, everything remains unproven, and so beautifully uncertain. So many things will happen, things we never anticipated—memorable plays, monumental homeruns, surprising heroes, and maybe even a no-hitter or two. There will be peaks and valleys, and those moments where we will be forced to remind ourselves “it’s a long season.” I also like to think of Opening Day as perhaps the closest we get to a league wide party, where it doesn’t matter whose jersey you’re wearing, you’re just happy to celebrate the game’s return with all those fellow devotees. Barring any pesky enduring rivalries, we’re just so happy to be back, and back together again.
As RA Dickey (sadly one of the Jays’ offseason casualties) has so rightly written, baseball “is the game of perpetual second chances,” and at this point every team—ours included—has the opportunity to take theirs. Right now it’s not foolish to believe that the Jays will again bring us to a now faraway October, and hell, maybe even capture it all. Because of that, these first few weeks are wonderfully non-stressful, the kind where we don’t put too much stock in daily wins or losses, and instead revel in this game’s necessary and jubilant return.
Now is the time to start to get used to organizing our schedules around this game again, to find our seat on our preferred sports bar stool, start planning some far away road trips, and to invite our favourite people to a day at the ballpark. The necessity of sunblock and a ball cap is coming, as soon we’ll be in the stands on a sunny day, gleefully yelling players’ names and rejoicing over their successes. I bet some of us will even find ourselves complaining over the luxury of a slow game that takes a little too long, and again face the bittersweet anxiety of one where way too much happens.
I think for a lot of us, baseball lovers and otherwise, this has felt like an unusually long, arduous winter. There have been dark moments, and dire headlines, and the need for the pleasure and joy of this game, every day, is more acute than ever. Baseball certainly won’t solve the world’s problems, or even our own, but it will make it a little easier for many of us to deal, and at the very least give us the space and a place to go to regroup. This game has a lovely way of keeping you company through the good and the bad, and today features that long-anticipated first pitch where our team finally comes back, says hello, and promises to stay for a good long while.
A very happy Blue Jays Opening Day, everyone. I feel better already.