The Blue Jays (and their fans) are playing their last game in Florida


Lauren Ash grew up in a baseball household in Belleville, Ontario, 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 the city at the age of 18, and sitting on 500 levels of SkyDome with friends became a ritual. Getting a chance to throw out the ceremonial first field at the 2014 game he was the pinnacle of his career.

“For my family, it was like I won an Oscar,” Ash said, laughing. “When I called my mom to tell her, she said,‘ That’s it. You worked for this. ‘”

Ash filmed the first season of her NBC comedy “Superstore” in 2015, when the Blue Jays returned to the offseason for the first time in 22 years. She hid her phone on set and listened to the MLB news app during the 5th game of the U.S. League Division against the Texas Rangers, only to rush to her colleague Ben Feldman’s trailer in time to watch The infamous home kick by Jose Bautista happen live.

SkyDome, which was renamed Rogers Center in 2015, has not hosted a regular season since 2019. Since then, the Jays have been baseball bums, playing at their AAA class stadium last season before the start of this year in their little spring training session. in Florida.

But cozy stadiums, capacity constraints and a closed U.S.-Canadian 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 introduced a fan program. For $ 60 Canadian, or about $ 45, fans could send in their photo to be included as a photo in the stands. Part of every purchase goes to Blue Jays Charitable Foundation.

Some of them corrugated plastic cutouts they cheered on the team during the 2020 season at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, and others spent the first two months of this season in the stands at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla. Stadium with 8,500 seats in Dunedin will end, however, with a game Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The cutouts, some of which represent famous Canadians but most of whom are everyday fans, will pass as a team to the north continues its schedule for 2021 in Buffalo. There is still no word on whether the team will be allowed to return to Canada this season.

For now, due to travel restrictions and the small capacity of temporary parks for the team, the cutouts will have to stand at the will of many fans of the team.

Ash immediately signed up for one. She went so far as to ask her boyfriend to scout locations in her Los Angeles home to find good lighting for the photo shoot.

“Symbolically, I felt like I had to be present at the stadium,” she said.

The cropping program provided some opportunities for fans who would otherwise have been left out.

Christina Dodge, director of the Jays box office, recently checked out cut-out photos when she got tired of locking up. She began to miss the long days at the stadium and she thought about her nieces.

“I realized that so many kids their age are probably trying to figure out what’s going on in the world right now,” she said.

Dodge has raised money to donate 14 pieces to organizations that support closing opportunities gaps and social barriers for children.

The team’s eviction program also provided an opportunity for fans like Dave Capstick, an Ontario-born Etobicoke, who currently lives in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, to have a physical presence at the stadium that he previously could not. .

Capstick used the program as a way to put his ten-year-old daughter Nya in the stands. “It’s nice to see you at the game,” he said.

Jays even suggested fans for a multitude of celebrities. Imagine the front row of a Lakers game, but Canadian – and made of corrugated plastic.

In the celebrity section, at level 100 in Dunedin, are Ash and actors Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Oh; Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon of the CBC show “Kim’s Convenience”; and the cast of Canadian sitcom “Schitt’s Creek,” including Dan Levy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Sarah Levy, Annie Murphy, Emily Hampshire and Noah Reid.

A native of Toronto and a longtime fan, Reid called the Blue Jays a “big distraction” on “Schitt’s Creek” located in Goodwood, Ontario, a 45-minute drive from Toronto. Eugene Levy regularly broadcast playoff matches between matches during the playoffs for 2015, and assistant directors, writers and the wardrobe department closely followed the team.

Reid admitted that it was bitterly sweet to see his neckline.

“I’d love to sit in those seats,” he said. “I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of my cardboard.”

What makes it difficult is how promising the Jays look this season, despite the team’s five consecutive defeats that kicked off the game on Monday.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is one of the best stoppers in the league. The team added free agent George Springer to a powerful lineup, and in it is ace Hyun-jin Ryu leading the rotation.

Reid says he will find his way to Buffalo if the Blue Jays play the World Series there.

“I’m holding an American passport,” he said, “so I’ll line up at the border to cross the bridge of peace.”

For now, the team and its fans are longing for the day when the Blue Jays can head home to Canada.

Toronto last hosted the regular season at Rogers Center in September 2019, when the Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-3, in their season finale. Lesley Mak was one of 25,738 fans present, and she remembers emotionally saying goodbye to first-grader Justin Smoak, who signed a contract with Milwaukee Brewers out of season.

“I didn’t know it was going to be my last game either,” Mack said.

She has attended about 30 Blue Jays games each season before the pandemic and is in the stands this year. Mak has organized live video game chats with friends over the past year, but admits they don’t compare to a hot summer day watching the team at Flight Deck, the part of the center field below the stadium’s main video panel.

“I’m an extrovert,” Mack said. “When I see baseball players hugging each other after winning, I miss hugging my friends.”

Jason Swaby, another regular player, misses hearing “OK Blue Jays,” seventh at Rogers Center.

“I miss the servers,” he added. “I miss talking to them as I wait to get to my place and ask how their families are.”

Ennis Esmer is still wary of the big crowd – “some people just don’t know how to behave” – ​​and says he won’t be back at the stadium any time soon. But Esmer, an actor known from shows like “Blindspot” and “Red Oaks,” admits he lacks adrenaline by watching a closer run from the bull in the ninth round and eavesdropping on fans in his part that pretends to be baseball experts.

The pandemic has taken away the routine of many baseball fans. Ash went back to work and found a semblance of normalcy. Last September, the cast of “Superstore” returned to the stage to film the final season of the series under strict health and safety protocols. Ash also launched a podcast called “A real crime and cocktails”With her cousin Christy Oxborrow.

But watching Jay at home, not at Rogers Center, is a reminder that life has not yet returned to normal.

He is looking forward to returning to Toronto soon and hopes to be able to sign up for the Blue Jays game.

“I love the show,” Ash said. “It’s similar to the experience in cinema. There is no bad seat in the house. Even if you sit a million miles away, it’s still an experience. You still feel invested. You still feel like you’re a part of it. “

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