When you’re waiting for the future to arrive, the years ahead can sound so distant.
Any fan wants their team to compete every year, though when you step back and consider the optimal moment for everything to line up, inevitably, there is a date a few years down the road where the prospects should emerge and the bad money comes off the books to make room for what should certainly be good money.
For Toronto Blue Jays fans, as they saw the remnants of the playoff teams from the midway of the last decade disassemble, 2021 was destined to be the earliest of those prime years, but seemed like such a long time to wait.
And now, here we are.
This isn’t to say that the current iteration of the Blue Jays are a finished project. There are still a number of key prospects who should emerge in the coming year, or two, and there are some spots on the roster that seem to still need some work. But as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. becomes the MVP candidate that fans hoped he could be, there is a different tenor and tone to the discussion of the team’s immediate fate on social media or talk radio.
This is not the “wait-and-see” team, where fans were just happy to see prospects get called up and maybe have the team keep its head above .500 for most of the season. This year’s Blue Jays are meaningfully in contention in a very competitive division.
It is a long season, like all others, but it is one where fans are already checking the standings before the first official day of summer. It is a moment where the strength of the team’s schedule is being weighed against that of their competitors, and where a stretch of four series against some of the top teams in the American League takes on some additional importance.
This is that moment fans had anticipated. Or at the very least, it is the beginning of that moment.
It is also such an unprecedented moment for any team to begin to incite all of the hope and anxiety that comes with taking this next step toward consequential baseball, but to do it away from their fans.
The Blue Jays have many fans spread out across the country and throughout North America for whom this season isn’t all that different, as they gather around screens or radios or headphones to stay engaged with every pitch. But with the team still playing in exile as COVID-19 keeps the border closed to the Blue Jays and their opponents, there is something clearly missing in this moment.
This should be a moment where the growing excitement is magnified by the gathering crowds at the Rogers Centre. This is the team that fans had waited to see, and one for whom they endured through some of the lean years. It is an exciting team with the young core joined by veterans, and the sort of team that would compel fans to fill the stadium with raucous energy that would feed off the team, and from which the team could itself feed.
Most fans are reasonable within the context of the pandemic, and can accept that in this exceptional moment, these sorts of sacrifices can hopefully get us through to a safer time when we can assemble again with friends and family and, eventually, with our fellow fans.
Still, it was more than just irritating in the early part of the season to have this team that we had anticipated through the decline and rebuild play key “home” games against divisional rivals before a crowd full of hooting and well-hydrated New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays fans in their temporary Florida home.
There is something special about this year’s Blue Jays, and it’s hard not to imagine how fun it would be to be together in Toronto, and feeling the collective spirit rise with every big moment. Years from now, when we look back upon the great individual seasons in franchise history, it will seem strange to think of how fans weren’t there in person to see Vladdy become the player that was promised.
We all spend so much time pining for meaningful games, and now that they are here, it is hard to not have the opportunity to experience them in person.
If there is any consolation, it is that it is likely that the ascent of this version of the Blue Jays has just begun. While our collective anticipation is being frustrated by the pandemic, the reward on the other side will be a young team that has one more year of experience, and maybe some further reinforcements to help them contend for a divisional title.
After all we’ve been through, the thought of rising to your feet and roaring with thousands of others might just feel that much sweeter.