Post-lockout landscape uniquely intriguing for Blue Jays fans

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo never really likes to go too much into bullpen sessions, but says Yusei Kikuchi showed real good stuff in his first one with the team, and says he did a fist pump when he heard he signed with his club.

After 99 days of talks – and not talking – between Major League Baseball and the players association, baseball’s first lockout in decades was blessedly concluded, and the game is back. But not without some lingering damage to the sport.

Baseball fans are now overwhelmed with excitement at this unique restart to functional baseball activities. This is an exceptional moment in baseball history, where the restorative feeling of players reporting to their respective training camps is combined with a version of the Winter Meetings, with monumental signings and trades on the verge of being announced at any moment.

For fans, it's reviving to have baseball back, and to spend our time thinking about rosters and lineups rather than offers and counteroffers. The sun seems to be shining just a little brighter, as are the screens from our constantly updating devices, keeping track of the newest and latest developments or fresh images of players scratching and spitting.

Seeing players playing a game may not sound consequential, especially within the context of all the other troubles in the world. But for fans, it’s a reminder of one of the small but meaningful joys in our lives.

Still, fans can’t be blamed for some lingering cynicism after seeing the way that the stewards of the game managed this critical moment of change for the sport. While the outcome of these latest negotiations was always more likely to lean toward status quo as opposed to a sea change to the way that baseball teams deal with their players, it became increasingly clear through the weeks leading up to the resolution that fans expected more and better from the owners.

In that context, “winning” the labour talks couldn’t just be about the franchise owners imposing their leverage further on players, crushing or dividing the union in the process. Fans wouldn’t accept losing a significant portion of the season for such an outcome.

And make no mistake: The commissioner of MLB acknowledged both in words and actions that the fans’ incensed voices were heard. While the commissioner seemed glib and jovial at an earlier press conference to announce that games were removed from the schedule, his remarks upon the conclusion of the negotiations were subdued and studiously apologetic. Even if that was nothing more than public relations eyewash, it shows that there’s an understanding that the fans need to buy in to the sport again.

In many markets, rekindling the enthusiasm may pose a challenge. But no team’s fan base has more reason for excitement for the season to come than the Blue Jays’.

This coming season will be – knock on wood – a true homecoming for the Blue Jays and their fans. It will be the first complete season to be played at home in Toronto since 2019, a team that was at the nadir of its competitive cycle.

It will be a full season with the young talent emerging toward their primes, while the rest of the roster continues to be supplemented with compelling and established big leaguers.

It’s a team that was one of the best in baseball down the stretch last year, and came within a win of the postseason, playing in baseball’s most competitive division.

And they’ll play home games this year in Canada. At their home ballpark. In Toronto. In front of a full-throated, supportive home crowd.

Even removing any of the negatives from recent seasons, 2022 would have been a season you would have circled a half-decade ago as the one where everything started to come together. The mood of Jays fans was growing increasingly frustrated and grim through the lockout at the thought of having this shining moment robbed from them by labour shenanigans.

The resolution and relaunch of the season might give those fans in particular a valid excuse for looking beyond their cynicism at how the business of the sport is run, and ahead to what promises to be one of the most exciting seasons in the history of the franchise.

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