TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays are a team in need of a solution. On Monday afternoon, at 2:54 p.m. ET, an email with the subject line “temporary home” arrived in the inboxes of several front office officials, including general manager Ross Atkins, offering one up.
“I understand that the Blue Jays have been displaced from SkyDome and Toronto because of, well … 2020,” it began. “As an ardent fan of the club since 1977, I would like to offer my hometown of Midway, Kentucky, as the home site for Blue Jays baseball.”
The ardent fan is Bob Rouse, who was born, raised and still resides in Midway, situated between Lexington and Frankfort, with a population of roughly 2,000. An enduring local claim to fame is that the local high school basketball team, nicknamed the Blue Jays, won the Kentucky state championship in 1937. Decades later, Rouse balled for the Blue Jays, too, and they became “part of my identity.”
While he suited up with pride, he was never really sure about the nickname, because they would play “the Bears and the Tigers, and I always thought Blue Jays was not the roughest, toughest nickname out there.” All that changed in 1977 when an expansion team was born north of the border.
“When a professional sports team came along and adopted the nickname of the Blue Jays – count me in,” says Rouse, who has a Joe Carter jersey, a gift from his two sons, hanging proudly in his closet. “I’ve been a fan all along.”
So on Saturday, when he saw news that the Canadian government had rejected the club’s plan to host regular-season games at Rogers Centre this summer, he posted the story in a local Facebook group and suggested that the town should offer to host them.
It generated some buzz, so he typed up the email and made his pitch, listing the following “solid reasons” to bring the Blue Jays to Midway:
“1. We are a tiny town, so ‘playing without fans’ shouldn’t be an issue.
2. Midway College has a brand-spanking new baseball field that was set to open this spring — interrupted by COVID, of course, so it has never been played on.
3. I am friends with both the mayor and the college president, so I’m your man in Midway.
4. Despite our small population, the mayor and the college president are not the same person.
5. We have remarkably good restaurants.
6. The aforementioned Midway Blue Jays won the state basketball championship in 1937, so, you know, winning comes natural around here.
7. My wife makes great blondies (like brownies, except lighter in color). If I asked, she would make a big batch for the team (and execs, I guess).”
To demonstrate that he has the best interests of the Blue Jays at heart, he added, “I should also advise you of a few drawbacks” to his plan:
“1. We don’t have a hotel, so the team would have to stay at a neighboring town. (We’re midway between Lexington and Frankfort.)
2. The team could stay in the college’s dorms, but students are returning before the end of the MLB season, so that could be awkward.
3. While the baseball field is new, as I mentioned, I can’t say if it would meet MLB specs.
4. I’m not sure if the college’s clubhouse facilities would meet players’ expectations. Honestly, there probably isn’t a clubhouse per se.”
“So yeah, Midway has a few strikes against it as the temporary home of a professional baseball team,” the letter continued. “But as a true-blue fan, I would be rude not to offer to help the team in this challenging time. (I should add that I own three different Blue Jays ball caps — not sure if that’s a point in favour of you coming or against it.)”
Rouse’s rationale in sending the letter was that “at some points you just have to make things happen.”
What did he expect?
“I thought I might get a reply email that said, ‘We can’t honour your request at this time, and we’re really super-busy, you idiot,’” he says with a laugh. “But I got the nicest phone call from Christine Robertson, their director of fan services. We talked for about 10 minutes (Monday) night and I sent her an email, just to thank her.
“I’m a small-town boy, so hearing from the front-office of a major-league baseball team is just — of course there was never any intention of really taking me up, but I think she got a smile from my invitation and I was certainly touched by her personal outreach. That’s just really good customer relations and fan services. I’m grateful for that.”
The Blue Jays’ search may have come to an end Tuesday, as they settled on a plan with the Pittsburgh Pirates to use picturesque PNC Park, according to an industry source. Approvals from both local and state officials were needed before the agreement could become official.
Earlier in the day, centre-fielder Randal Grichuk said Blue Jays players have “heard Buffalo, we’ve heard Baltimore possibly, we’ve heard Pittsburgh, possibly,” though “to this moment I haven’t heard a definite place we’re going to play yet.”
Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggested progress was being made and detailed some of the hurdles, and Grichuk said the uncertainty “is kind of crazy this close to opening day.”
“Luckily we start on the road,” he added, “but that’s what we’re hearing, possibly Pittsburgh, Baltimore and, worst case, Buffalo.”
That would leave Midway out on the sidelines, which Rouse understands, even though he felt obligated to give Grayson Vandegrift, the town mayor, a heads up to be ready “just in case he gets a random call.”
“He’s so excited about it,” added Rouse. “He said, ‘I had not been a Blue Jays fan until now. Now, I’m all about it. Maybe we should be sister cities.’ Mayors think in those terms.”
On a more serious note, as the editor-in-chief for the National Tour Association’s Courier magazine, which serves an international network of tour operators, Rouse knows first-hand the chaos and economic damage COVID-19 has caused.
Even the baseball team he loves isn’t immune.
“Our members have been devastated by this pandemic and certainly seeing the difficulties for Major League Baseball, in general, and the Blue Jays, in specific, have gone through, it’s just all so 2020,” he says. “I’ve been fascinated in talking with Christine, reading all the articles, and weighing out — just like all the fans — which option would be better. Dunedin, Florida would not be a good option because if you survive COVID then you might die from the heat. I don’t know that an outdoor stadium in Florida is a good plan. I’ve seen the notion of playing in other major-league ballparks and without fans, I guess it’s not that bad.
“But I’m excited about the team.”
Even if they don’t make Midway the solution to their ongoing problem.