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The philosophy of having fun is reigniting the Blue Jays

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Photo credit:© Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Veronica Chung
3 months ago
It’d be an understatement to say that the Toronto Blue Jays fans have been thoroughly disappointing over the past few years. The worst part of that cynicism is that it was confirmed each time Toronto failed to reach its true potential time and time again. There was a reason why MLB Hope-O-Meter from The Athletic showed the Blue Jays’ fans optimism plunging to 31 percent this year, compared to 97.3 percent in 2023. Naturally, Thursday’s Opening Day brought back cautious exhilaration to the Blue Jays fanbase, but it also simultaneously resurfaced a tinge of nervousness and fatalism.
Facing the Tampa Bay Rays at the Tropicana Field–also known as the Trop– isn’t the easiest task in the world, the Blue Jays were proving that point again when their offence collectively blanked against Tampa’s not-so-overpowering starting pitcher Zach Eflin. While Eflin’s wily pitches generated infuriating swings and misses, Toronto’s starting pitcher José Berríos gave up a home run to Rays’ first baseman Yandy Díaz immediately as the bottom of the first began. Just from those moments, it almost felt like the Blue Jays were destined to disappoint once again.
But that sense of letdown quickly dissipated when Berríos chugged along to prevent more runs for four innings and the offence came back to life during the top of the sixth. As centre fielder George Springer, second baseman Cavan Biggio and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. each homered at the notoriously difficult Trop, something felt different about this iteration of the Blue Jays. There were questionable moments from both offence and defence in this first game of the year, but there certainly was an aura of maturity that didn’t exist before. 
The previous iteration of the Blue Jays got more easily flustered and was prone to mental mistakes. If things were going badly for Toronto, things didn’t get much better from there most of the time in the past. But this year’s Blue Jays didn’t bat an eye, even when the Rays threatened to roar back with their offence. That’s how they successfully limited the Rays to only score two runs in nine innings while showing off their pop by scoring a total of eight runs. It was the moment of vindication after enduring much of the torture in a dreaded stadium in St. Petersburg. 
But if there’s another critical factor that led to the Blue Jays’ Opening Day success, it’s the return to having fun. Fun was supposed to be an important part of the game for Toronto, and that philosophy was evident in 2021 when the team created a unique home run jacket at the height of the summer. The jacket disappeared the next year and never returned to the clubhouse. 
Let’s be clear, the Blue Jays were still having fun in 2022 and 2023 without the home run jacket. After all, they have to play 162 games and there has to be some fun at some point. However, it was also painfully obvious that Toronto gave into the pressure and tried to do too much each time. That’s how fun got sapped out from each game sometimes and that “sometimes” piled up until it was far too late.
It got to a point where the idea of fun took a permanent backseat while tension sneakily reached its heights for a couple of years. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. understood this better than anyone and vocalized that he wanted to bring the home run jacket back to the club, ahead of the 2024 season. Guerrero Jr. himself was the perfect embodiment of what was going on in Toronto’s clubhouse – sky-high expectations with extremely underwhelming results. There was no doubt that Guerrero Jr. was capable of so much more, just like the Blue Jays, but reaching that potential seemed almost illusive as he failed to replicate his glorious 2021 season records. 
It was clear that Guerrero Jr. wasn’t quite himself when he wasn’t having fun playing the game that he loves. That’s why his declaration of “I’m gonna have fun this year” carries more weight and demonstrates how he is approaching this season. Far too often, Guerrero Jr. and the Blue Jays let pressure take control, so they decided to return to the basics this year so that they can remember how they fell in love with the game in the first place. At the end of the day, baseball is a game of failure – teams take advantage of other teams’ weaknesses and also witness their own defeats when they botch their strategies. In an environment where failure is practically inevitable, not having fun can cost a team so much.
Every team will lose forty or fifty games, at least, since there are so many games in a gruelling baseball season. Did the Blue Jays win the first game of the season? Yes. Will they win all 162 games? Not at all. Gone are the pressures that dominated the Blue Jays’ discourse. After several years of far-fetched expectations, the industry experts finally stopped listing Toronto as the favourite to win the World Series, let alone making the playoffs. 
That’s actually the best thing that could have possibly happened to the Blue Jays because they can finally let the burdens go and have the most fun. Who cares what people think anyway when you’re having fun? That’s how Toronto approached Opening Day. The odds were stacked against them playing in Tampa, but they never let that bother them. Instead, they put fun first and all showed up to do their part. 
The Blue Jays know they can be better even if their roster is rather unglamorous this year. If they’ve learned anything through their bitter failures, it’s that they need to let go of chasing perfection altogether. The art of letting go will save this team if they want to make it far. But most of all, having an unprecedented amount of fun will transform the playing field for good.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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