The Blue Jays (and their fans) play their last game in Florida
Lauren Ash grew up in a baseball house in Belleville, Ont., A two hour drive from Toronto. When the Blue Jays won their first World Series in 1992, 9-year-old Ash became a lifelong fan. She moved to town when she was 18, and sitting at SkyDome level 500 with friends has become a ritual. Have luck to throw the first ceremonial throw during a game in 2014 was a highlight of his career.
“For my family, it was like I won an Oscar,” Ash said with a laugh. “When I called my mom to tell her, she said, ‘This is it. This is what you worked for. ”
Ash was filming the first season of his NBC comedy “Superstore” in 2015 when the Blue Jays returned to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. She hid her phone on set and listened to the MLB app for updates during Game 5 of an American League Division series against the Texas Rangers, eventually rushing to the trailer for her. co-stars Ben Feldman in time to watch Jose Bautista’s infamous bat flip at home. run live.
SkyDome, which was renamed Rogers Center in 2015, hasn’t hosted a regular season game since 2019. Since then, the Jays have been baseball wanderers, playing at their AAA-class affiliate’s stadium last season before moving on. start this year at their tiny spring training facility. in Florida.
But comfortable stadiums, capacity restrictions and the closure of the Canada-U.S. Border couldn’t stop Blue Jays fans like Ash – at least in two-dimensional form – from being there to support the team.
Like many clubs, Toronto has implemented a fan slicing program. For 60 Canadian dollars, or about $ 45, fans could submit a photo of themselves to be included as a photo in the booths. A portion of every purchase goes to a Blue Jays charitable foundation.
Some of those corrugated plastic cutouts applauded the team during the 2020 season at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, and others have spent the first two months of this season in the stands at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla. However, Dunedin will end with Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The cutouts, some of which depict famous Canadians but most of whom are everyday fans, will head north as the team resumes their 2021 schedule in Buffalo. It’s still unclear if the team will be allowed to return to Canada this season.
For now, due to travel restrictions and the small capacity of the team’s temporary ball parks, the cutouts will need to replace many of the team’s fans.
Ash signed one right away. She went so far as to ask her boyfriend to spot places in her Los Angeles home to find good lighting for a photoshoot.
“Symbolically, I felt I needed to be present at the ballpark,” she said.
The chopping schedule provided opportunities for fans who would have been left out otherwise.
Christina Dodge, the Jays’ box office manager, was recently reviewing the cropped photos when lockdown fatigue hit. She began to miss the long days at the ballpark and thought of her nieces and nephews.
“I realized that so many other kids their age were probably trying to figure out what’s going on in the world right now,” she said.
Dodge raised funds to donate 14 die-cuts to organizations that support the elimination of gaps and social barriers for children.
The team roster program also provided the opportunity for fans like Dave Capstick, born in Etobicoke, Ont., And currently living in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, to have a physical presence at the baseball stadium. that he could not have done in the past. .
Capstick used the program to put his 10-year-old daughter, Nya, in the stands. “It’s nice to see us at the game,” he said.
The Jays even appealed for fan suggestions for a series of celebrities. Imagine the front line of a Lakers game, but Canadian – and made of corrugated plastic.
The Celebrity Section, at Level 100 in Dunedin, includes Ash and actors Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Oh; CBC Network’s Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon Show “Kim’s Convenience”; and the cast of the Canadian sitcom “Schitt’s Creek,” including Dan Levy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Sarah Levy, Annie Murphy, Emily Hampshire and Noah Reid.
A Toronto native and longtime fan, Reid called the Blue Jays a “major distraction” on “Schitt’s Creek” located in Goodwood, Ont., A 45-minute drive from Toronto. Eugene Levy regularly broadcast playoff games between takes during the team’s playoffs in 2015, and the sub-directors, writers and the wardrobe department have been following the team closely.
Reid admitted it was bittersweet to see his cut.
“I would love to be seated in these seats,” he said. “I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of myself in cardboard.”
What makes it harder is how promising the Jays look this season, regardless of the team’s five straight losses before Monday’s game.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is one of the best hitters in the league. The team added free agent George Springer to a powerful lineup, and ace Hyun-jin Ryu leads the rotation.
Reid says he’ll find a way to get to Buffalo if the Blue Jays play there in the World Series.
“I hold an American passport,” he said, “so I’m going to line up at the border to cross the Peace Bridge.”
For now, the team and their fans look forward to the day the Blue Jays can return home to Canada.
Toronto last hosted a regular season game at the Rogers Center in September 2019, when the Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-3, in their season finale. Lesley Mak was one of 25,738 fans in attendance, and she remembers bidding a moving farewell to first baseman Justin Smoak, who signed with the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason.
“I had no idea it would be my last game too,” said Mak.
She attended about 30 Blue Jays games each season before the pandemic and has a cutout in the stands this year. Mak has hosted live game views in video chats with friends over the past year, but admits they don’t compare to a hot summer day watching the team on the flight deck. , a section of the center field below the main stadium video board.
“I’m an extrovert,” Mak said. “When I see baseball players kissing after a win, it hurts to hug my friends.”
Jason Swaby, another regular player, misses to hear “OK Blue Jays”, a fixture of the seventh inning at Rogers Center.
“I miss the bailiffs,” he added. “I miss talking to them while I wait to get to my seat and ask how their families are doing.”
Ennis Esmer is always wary of large crowds – “some people just don’t know how to act” – and says he won’t be back anytime soon. But Esmer, an actor known on shows like “Blindspot” and “Red Oaks,” admits that it lacks the adrenaline of watching a closer look out of the bullpen in the ninth inning and listening to fans. his section pretending to be baseball experts.
The pandemic has robbed many baseball fans of their routines. Ash regained some semblance of normalcy when he returned to work. Last September, the cast of “Superstore” returned to the set to film the show’s final season under strict health and safety protocols. Ash also started a podcast called “True Crime and Cocktails” with his cousin Christy Oxborrow.
But watching the Jays at home rather than at the Rogers Center reminds us that life is not back to normal yet.
She can’t wait to return to Toronto soon and hopes to replace her cutout in a Blue Jays game.
“I love the pageantry,” Ash said. “It’s similar to a movie theater experience. There is no bad seat in the house. Even if you are sitting a million miles away, it is still an experience. You always feel invested. You always feel like you are a part of it. “