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Photo Credit: Joel Gallant, Sportsnet

News, Ozark, and sourdough: How Blue Jays beat writers are keeping busy without baseball

At this point, it’s nearly impossible to find an industry or field that hasn’t been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It seemed that after Rudy Gobert’s positive diagnosis on March 12, the consumerist world shut down in phases, with North America’s four big sports leagues—NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL—reacting immediately. All told, it’s been 42 days and counting since the last North American professional sports game was played.

While professional sports are hardly what legislative bodies and public health organizations would consider essential services, massive amounts of people, from stadium personnel to minor league athletes to team officials, among others, have lost or are in danger of losing their jobs and incomes. Perhaps one of the least talked about of these groups is members of the media, more specifically, the writers who cover the game on a day-to-day basis.

From epic long-form storytellers to everyday watchdogs, members of the media update, captivate, and present information to fans of any sport. In Toronto, Blue Jays fans have several outlets to choose from, whether it be one of the city’s three major newspapers or the alternative digital platforms that push the boundaries of traditional journalism.

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As a sports city, Toronto is sometimes slighted for having a hostile media environment for visiting players and fanbases alike. But, in the case of baseball, the media is the exact opposite: insightful, unthreatening, and professional while still seeking out answers and scoops in accordance with journalistic diligence.

And so, in these trying times, it’s interesting to see what they’re doing to keep busy. With no baseball to write about and no transactions to analyze, here’s what some of the members of the Toronto Blue Jays beat have been doing to stay occupied:

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Kaitlyn McGrath, The Athletic

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“I’m a bit of a TV nerd. I watch way too much. So, this has given me a lot of extra time to watch shows I’ve always meant to get to,” McGrath wrote of her social distancing. “But I’m a very social person, so I miss all sorts of in-person conversations that I’m used to having daily — with friends, family, colleagues, a barista, a random stranger on the TTC. On that note, I actually miss taking the TTC and going places!”

One of the beat’s most reserved and reflective writers, she’s been enjoying Parks and Recreation, while also catching up on several seasons of her guilty pleasure show, Survivor. In addition to that, she’s baking bread, going on jogs, and drinking tea from her illustrious collection. There is, however, something missing from the routine that baseball writers become so accustomed to.

“Even as I continue to write from home, I’m definitely missing the rush that comes with covering a live baseball game and the sense of accomplishment you feel when you leave the ballpark after filing that night’s story,“ she said in summary. “We’re all missing baseball but I just want all sports to return when it is completely safe to do so.”

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Keegan Matheson, MLB.com

“I’m living pretty simply here,” Matheson said, speaking to me from his apartment in downtown Toronto. “I’m not someone who believes that you have to ‘win’ this, I don’t think you need to win your stay-at-home quarantine. I’m not interested in changing my life, I’m just interested in getting through it.”

Unlike some of his colleagues, Matheson left Florida when he was scheduled to, seeing as he arrived in Dunedin before pitchers and catchers reported, on February 11. Since then, the jovial Nova Scotian has been exploring his neighbourhood’s offering of small businesses and catching up on reading, all while revisiting tape of legendary Blue Jays seasons that took place before his time.

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“I would rather be covering an 18-1 game against the Orioles. I would rather be covering the worst game ever than sitting at home,” he laughed. “We’re at least fortunate that we’re going through this in 2020 and not 30 years ago. Now we have archives of old games, you can read online, you have a thousand things to watch to fill that void.”

Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

“The most difficult thing about self-isolation is missing the stadium experience and quite frankly, the travel,” Longley told Blue Jays Nation. “I was on the road for 134 days last year – which is on the heavy side, but it’s such a part of my professional life now that you learn to enjoy it.”

In fact, travel is such a big part of being a beat writer that he spent a full day cancelling the season’s flights and hotel reservations upon his return. Having left Florida on March 12, Longley, now living in Burlington, is getting some reading done—he’s currently digging into Ken Dryden’s Scotty and Todd Zolecki’s Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay—while doing some light running and making sure to catch up on the news of each day.

“I’m of the belief that a return of baseball would have a massive soothing effect on people, even if it’s just as TV programming to start,” he concluded. “I can’t stress enough, however, that it needs to be done with ultimate safety.”

Laura Armstrong, Toronto Star

“I’m doing many of the same things I usually do, just tailoring them around physical distancing measures,” Armstrong reflected. “I usually walk for a couple hours a day, try to work out in my apartment when I can, keeping in touch with my loved ones with a handful of video calls a week.”

Originally from Ottawa, Armstrong has temporarily been moved to The Star’s news section to contribute to their coronavirus coverage. Though still occasionally contributing a baseball story or two, she’s spent her time baking muffins, cookies, and bread and reading works by Kristen Hannah and Nora McInerny, among others. On the news side of things, she says that she enjoys “being a part of what may be the biggest news story of my lifetime”.

“The big thing for me has been remembering that by doing nothing — because a lot of the time it feels like I’m doing nothing — I’m actually playing a part in keeping people safe,” she wrote in closing. “That gives me a sense of purpose and comfort in the more difficult moments.”

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet

“I’ve been wanting to have more time as opposed to looking for things to do,” Davidi remarked over Zoom from his home in North York. “It’s been pretty busy, for me personally.”

An instructor at Centennial College, Davidi has kept busy, teaching remotely and marking as the semester comes to a close. Of course, he’s also continued to write columns and participate in Sportsnet’s multimedia offerings, including a digital watch party of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS this past Friday. At home, he’s watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine with his sons, re-read Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, and done some therapeutic housework.

“I’m far from the only person to have a bit of cabin fever,” he said. “It’s amazing how you just wish that you can go to the grocery store without it being a big production…I’m very fortunate in a lot of ways.”

Alexis Brudnicki, MLB.com

“I’ve learned that I am driven almost exclusively by external motivating factors and absolutely none of it is intrinsic, so I’m trying to change that,” Brudnicki remarked of her time away from baseball. “But that’s new, I’m only about a week into getting myself into a routine and sticking to it.”.

Though a resident of Mississauga, Brudnicki has been spending her time in her hometown of London, Ont., passing the time by re-watching The Good Place, finishing Ozark, and introducing her mother, Teresa, to Nashville. She’s also tried to get back into running, which she quite famously did while in Dunedin for spring training, all while contributing loads of content to MLB Pipeline.

“As someone who seeks out answers for a living, it’s tough when there really are no definitive answers and the questions seem to keep mounting all the time,” she told Blue Jays Nation. “ I try to keep perspective and understand that my own problems are pretty minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but also know that there are plenty of people to commiserate with.”

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Overall, one common sentiment is echoed throughout the activities of all members of the baseball media in these unprecedented times: a desire for the return of baseball, but only under safe and appropriate circumstances.

As Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo (via Matheson) said during his recent teleconference with reporters, he’s a baseball fan just like everyone, and based on that alone, he wants baseball to come back.

Even in some of our perpetual cynicism, baseball has healing powers, as do all sports. And so, while everyone—from reporters to athletes to fans—eagerly awaits the return of summer’s most enjoyable pastime, the baseball community remains united in their love for the game and connections formed within it. With any luck, Blue Jays fans will see gameday stories from the above reporters in no time.