For the first time in months, there’s no longer that feeling of baseball-related anticipation. Instead, in its place, is a feeling of melancholy.
It’s October now and it feels like summer is over. Tuesday’s post-season opener was a tight, stressful, nail-biter, while Wednesday’s must-win was a flop. This team that had been loaded with magic all season — all 60 games of it — didn’t have anything left.
The young Jays sprinted headfirst into a wall known as the Tampa Bay Rays — a veteran team in which every player seems to be a perfectly placed piece to a puzzle — and got sent back home after a two-game sweep.
Maybe things would have gone better if the Jays hadn’t tried to be so clever with their starting pitching strategy. Maybe losing to the Rays was an inevitability and we were just blind with undeserved optimism heading into the series. Who knows.
What I do know, though, is that as disappointing as bowing out of the playoffs in two games may seem now, the 2020 Blue Jays were a blessing, and they deserve to be remembered fondly.
Had I told you back in April that the Blue Jays were going to be swept in two games in the wild-card round of the playoffs, you’d have been thrilled. I mean, you’d have been a bit confused given the fact the three-game wild-card round didn’t exist in April, but the idea of this group, the one that lost nearly 100 games in 2019, becoming a playoff team so suddenly would surely have been a welcomed thought.
Now that it’s all over, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind.
I remembered pretty vividly when I thought the Blue Jays had played their last game of 2020. It was on March 12, the day that the NBA suspended its season after multiple players tested positive for COVID, and the Jays were playing the Pirates in a Grapefruit League game.
Nate Pearson was on the mound, absolutely mowing guys down, as he had been all spring.
This is our last baseball for a while, so enjoy this video of Nate Pearson owning a guy so hard he just chucked his bat at the ball pic.twitter.com/Bjt13NZ0to
— Blue Jays Nation (@thejaysnation) March 12, 2020
The game came to an end and, well, that was it. Shortly after, spring training was suspended and players were sent home as the world went into lockdown. Nothing has been the same since.
I’m not going to turn this into a sappy post about how sports coming back saved us from the Corona Virus. That’s bullshit and that isn’t what happened.
People have lost their jobs and their livelihoods and millions are faced with unprecedented anxiety as to how to move forward with their lives as we continue to navigate this ever-changing world. And, of course, most tragically, there are countless people out there who have passed away because of this virus, and to suggest that baseball or hockey or basketball or whatever coming back can adequately heal these wounds is disingenuous.
But I do believe it’s fair to say that the return of sports gave us some much-needed normalcy in our lives. It gave us something to distract us, something to look forward to, and, perhaps most importantly, something to connect us when we were, and still are, isolated from one another.
It looked at times as though we weren’t going to have baseball this year. Not only did we get baseball — a weird, 60-game rendition of baseball with cardboard cutouts in the stands — but we got to witness this young, scrappy, enthusiastic Blue Jays team take a massive step forward.
This time last year, the Jays were just wrapping up one of the most miserable seasons in franchise history. They went 67-95 and you had to squint really, really, reaaaaaally hard to see the outlines of a team that could be fun and good in a few years. Now, the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t seem all that far away.
When we look back on the 2020 Blue Jays, we probably won’t conjure up images of Bo Bichette making two errors at The Trop in a blowout loss or wonder what would have happened if Matt Shoemaker was allowed to pitch another couple of innings.
Instead, we’ll remember this as the beginning, the year in which things really started coming together.
We’ll remember Teoscar Hernandez breaking out to become one of the best power hitters in baseball.
We’ll remember Hyun Jin Ryu making the seamless transition from the National League to the American League East and continuing to be an ace.
We’ll remember Nate Pearson making his debut, casually throwing 99 miles-per-hour at the knees.
99 MPH AND painted? 😳🔥 pic.twitter.com/5yxIiTUUji
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 29, 2020
We’ll remember Jordan Romano, a guy from Markham, becoming a late-inning stud.
We’ll remember Jonathan Davis coming up with a clutch two-run homer against the Yankees and we’ll also remember this insane catch he made right at the end of the season.
We’ll remember Alejandro Kirk becoming Canada’s new Large Adult Son, making the jump from Single-A to the Majors and having a four-hit game against the Yankees.
We’ll remember the time that they went down seven runs in the first inning of a game against the Phillies and came back to win the game 9-8. We’ll remember the time that they piled 10 runs on the Yankees in one inning to erase a 6-2 deficit.
We’ll remember a team that came into the season without anywhere to play, earnestly believing that they could make the playoffs, and then, against all odds, despite all the adversity and injuries and challenges they faced, managing to achieve their goal.
We’ll remember the night that they clinched with a win over the Yankees and the incredible speech that Caleb Joseph gave the team afterwards.
We’ll remember Charlie Montoyo and The Algorithm’s weird decisions and Derek Fisher dropping the ball at Yankee Stadium and all of the baserunning blunders and plenty of other stupid stuff like that, but, by then, it’ll just be funny shit from learning process along the way.
We’ll remember this team and the weird, wild, unexpected ride they took us on fondly. There’s a ways to go yet, but this group gave us a glimpse of exactly why we should be so optimistic about the future. In a season that looked like it was never going to be, that feeling of hope and excitement is more than you can ask for.