Some folks love roller coasters. The ups and downs and the speed that jostles you, still reacting to the last lurch as you are overcome by the next jolt.
Some folks catalyze that shock and instinctive panic into elation and joy. For other folks, the terror just becomes a deeper existential angst.
And so it is with the 2022 Toronto Blue Jays’ season thus far. Some folks may be relishing the daily agony of the turbulent first third of season, while others have had their nerves frayed by the near constant state of unease.
One could probably trace through many other seasons in Jays history, and find similar streaks of highs and lows, but this season certainly feels as angst-ridden as any in the franchise's past. The expectations for this season have been high from the very outset, and the early part of the schedule has featured a constant barrage of games that have been harrowingly close, or have felt like “must-win” games even though we have yet to reach the summer solstice.
In some ways, the well-worn line about every season being a “long season” is being redefined by these Blue Jays. Previously, this would have been a call for calm; an invocation for people to relax and not lose their minds over an early season loss. But after missing the playoffs by a single game last year, it has been entirely predictable that any mid-week afternoon loss to a sub-.500 team takes on added weight and meaning.
It hasn’t helped that even as the Blue Jays have spent more than a month playing like the elite contender that was expected, they still haven’t made up much ground on their competition. This, after a first month of the season where every game felt like Game Seven in the Battle for Your Sanity and Soul.
Certainly, the Blue Jays have played well enough and seem well-positioned for a post-season run. But checking the standings, and seeing themselves bunched closely with their division rivals in the Wild Card race while slipping further from the lead in the American League East is enough to give even the most level-headed fan some level of concern.
(The fact that we’ve been checking the standings since April should give some indication of the collective madness involved.)
When every night of a six-month-long schedule starts to feel like it is do-or-die, that makes for a very long season, indeed.
Were this any typical season of recent vintage, being solidly in a wild card spot and 19-9 over the past month would be enough to allow a fan to enjoy the moment. But when the Boston Red Sox have gone 21-9 and the New York Yankees have gone 22-7 over the same period, it’s hard to let your weary fandom revel in any relative level of success.
This hasn’t been any typical month, nor is this any typical season.
All of this only serves to heighten the meaning around this weekend’s series with Yankees, who, it has been ruefully noted by many, are very good. The Yankees' lead in the division has reached 10 games, which begins to feel like insurmountable, even with two-thirds of the schedule remaining.
This, in a season with a new playoff format where the division title seems to have added importance. The Blue Jays could still win 95 or even 100 games, and possibly end up in a Wild Card series, maybe even on the road.
The Yankees’ lead may feel overwhelming, but the team is not invincible. If the Blue Jays are going to begin to make headway into cutting down the distance between themselves and the runaway league leaders, though, it certainly feels like this weekend’s series takes on added importance.
In some ways, this feels at this moment like the most meaningful series since the Jays and Kansas City Royals tangled at the end of July, 2015. After decades of frustration, that series was the first to truly have a playoff feel in Toronto, with a packed house and charged atmosphere. If the online ticket maps are any indication, this Rogers Centre will certainly be packed throughout the weekend.
Finding the meaning in a moment like this can be a tricky thing. There’s meaning that is inherent in the moment, and meaning that gets ascribed to it, and often, it’s only from the safe perspective and distance that time allows us that we can understand which meaning was felt and what meaning was real.
But living in the now, it certainly feels as though this weekend’s series will tell us much about who these Toronto Blue Jays are, and how high we can let our expectations soar for the rest of the year.
Try to remember to breathe. And enjoy the ride.