Canada Day at the Dome brings a break in the clouds

Drew Hutchison retired the first 14 batters he faced and struck out ten overall, Jose Bautista hit a home run, and the Canada Day crowd at Rogers Centre witnessed the Jays walk away with a win over Milwaukee.

TORONTO — Amidst everything, we’re all just looking for reasons to believe. Like on a typically muggy Tuesday afternoon in the thick of Toronto summer, when the climate inside Rogers Centre ranges into Amazon river basin territory, with meteorologists calling for showers to begin at 1:00 p.m. and end sometime around 4:00 — just enough time to play a baseball game.

Those were the conditions that threatened to damper this year’s edition of Canada Day at the Dome, the one game a year that is guaranteed to feature a fantastic baseball atmosphere (it’s far less bro-ey than opening day). But then, shortly before first pitch, the people who control such things mercifully pulled the roof back, spilling hazy sunlight onto the stadium’s green turf—weather projections be damned.

And sure enough, as the game stretched to three hours and the Blue Jays were adding insurance runs in the eighth on their way to eventual triumph over Milwaukee, nary a drop of rain fell and the 45,088 who had shown up were given a great day. Now that’s something you can believe in.

The ballpark experience at the Dome is never going to be as good as, say, Fenway or Wrigley, where you can feel the ghosts flying around the place, or Camden and U.S. Cellular, where the food and drink is second to none, or San Francisco and St. Louis, which host maybe the best ballparks to watch a game in the majors. But when Canada Day works out, it’s almost as if that doesn’t matter. Because we have our own experience.

If you’re like me and you grew up in post-Exhibition Stadium Toronto, you know the long, humid skywalk from Union Station and the waft of street meat as you cross under the CN Tower. You know marching up the dank ramps to the 500s and leaning forward on those blue railings and slowly easing the lid off your beer so it doesn’t froth over like a pasta pot. And you know Canada Day on a sunny afternoon at the Dome, which, since the glory days of the early 90s—which so many of us missed out on for being too young—is as good as it gets. That’s been our experience.

Missing the post-season, unfortunately, has been too. Which maybe explains why some of the wind that had gusted behind the Blue Jays sails through a relentless 21-9 May, bringing large weekend crowds to the ballpark and massive television numbers to the cable providers, had calmed of late. If you spent enough time on the Internet—which is not recommended, yet somewhat unavoidable—you could feel the pessimism creeping in thick as London fog while June wore on. Maybe this team wasn’t as good as they had seemed. Maybe it was all a mirage. Maybe you couldn’t believe.

And sure, June was not a terrific month for your Toronto Blue Jays. They went 12-14 and had a negative run differential of 105-110. It was a massive let down after the way they stampeded through May, and no one could blame you for feeling like it was an inevitability. As if something must go wrong for this team, not only because they hadn’t won anything in two decades, but because they play in Toronto and the sports franchises here aren’t allowed to have nice things. Canada Day at the Dome is our experience; professional sports heartbreak is, too.

But Tuesday marked the beginning of July, a new month and a new chance to keep building on a so-far successful season. It was the first time the Blue Jays had been in first place later than June 30 since 2000. It was also the 40th consecutive day the Blue Jays held first place in the AL East, something that hasn’t happened since 1993. And you can look out above the hotel rooms in centre field to see what else happened that year, flapping in the breeze.

The Blue Jays are a good team and this has been a good season. The best season the ball club has had in some time. These are facts. At times, when starting pitchers get rocked or comebacks fall short, it can be easy to feel pessimistic—to turn cynical. And when the Blue Jays are looking to add runs in the seventh inning of a one-run game with two runners on and one out, and you see Steve Tolleson and Munenori Kawasaki being asked to do it, no one can blame you for lacking confidence.

But, hey—it worked out. The pitching held on and the rain held off. And maybe this could be the year, with an unusually weak AL East sitting plum for the taking and fortune often swinging in the Blue Jays favour as it hadn’t in 2013, that this team once again plays baseball in October. Whether you see the Dome as half full or half empty, none of us know for sure what will happen over these next 90 days. There’s fewer games remaining than have been played and the club is in first place. That’s about all you can be sure of right now.

And who knows what it will take for this city to find faith. How deep into the season the Blue Jays must contend before fans start packing the ballpark every night. How long they have to stay in first place and how much must work in their favour for fans to begin to expect success instead of collapse.

On Tuesday the Blue Jays won a game they likely wouldn’t have last year and Canada Day at the Dome was a fantastic atmosphere once again. If you’re looking for reasons to believe, there’s two of them right there.

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