TORONTO – The lights are dimmed in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse at Rogers Centre and the air is thick with cigar smoke. The champagne and beer are on ice, ready to be opened and sprayed.
But first, a toast.
“Crazy year,” says Blue Jays manager John Schneider, goggles resting on his forehead. “Great job everybody. Ups and downs, we are right where we should be. Let’s make a deep [expletive] run at this. Congratulations to you all. Let’s [expletive] go.”
Now the mayhem celebrating a post-season berth can ensue.
Here’s an inside look at some of the party on Sunday evening in Toronto.
George Springer is in his element here. He’s a veteran of the locker-room celebrations of course, having won a World Series and popped countless bottles with the Astros over the years, along with a few since joining the Blue Jays.
Before Schneider even began his speech, Springer had discarded his jersey and affixed his goggles over his eyes. The shirtless catalyst of fun is ready to go.
Springer grabs a bottle of champagne and distributes the bubbles over the heads of a few teammates and coaches before it runs empty. He darts back to the ice-filled cart and keeps it going. Rinse and repeat.
As he saunters around the clubhouse, El Apagon by Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny begins to blare on the speakers. Springer starts to dance, but that’s not enough. Others must bailar, too.
He runs over to Santiago Espinal, who’s at a standstill, and points to the infielder’s feet. Espinal gets the cue and busts out into a dance. Springer then moves over to Cavan Biggio and points to his feet. Biggio knows what to do.
Away from the chaos in the centre of the Blue Jays clubhouse, Jose Berrios finished up a FaceTime call, exchanged hugs with a line of coaches marching into the madness and then pondered the opportunity ahead.
That it’s against the Twins, the team that traded him to the Blue Jays at the deadline in 2021, only added to the intrigue for the right-hander. Another subplot, aside from that one, is that both teams enter the wild-card round looking for their first post-season win in a long time, the Blue Jays since 2016, the Twins since 2004.
“It’s going to be a fun one but also a tough one,” said Berrios. “They’ve played pretty well so far but Minnesota hasn’t won any games in the post-season, I know they want to win that first game. Us, I’ve never won any games in the post-season (in four previous trips) either. I know this group didn’t win any in 2020 and last year, so it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a competitive series.”
Berrios’ bounce-back this season has been pivotal to the Blue Jays’ post-season push. Like so many of his teammates, he pointed to a challenging 162.
“It was a really, really long year, up and down, but one thing we did to handle it was stay together like a team,” he said. “When things didn’t go the way we wanted, we were still battling and fighting every day. And at the end of the season, we’re here celebrating because we made the playoffs.”
And with that, he re-entered the fray.
As the clubhouse celebration winds down, the players make a push for the field only to be slowed down by the narrow tunnel that connects their clubhouse to the field. As they file out one at a time, the energy remains boisterous.
“Kev, put a shirt on,” someone yells at Kevin Gausman.
“I am!” the team’s presumed Game 1 starter shouts in reply.
Nearby, one veteran player isn’t sure what to do with his lit cigar.
“Can I smoke this out here?”
No one answers. Taking no chances, the player snubs it out and leaves it in the tunnel.
Jordan Romano is behind everyone else. Quite fitting for the closer of the team. Shirtless, he’s also got a cigar in his mouth and is moving slowly. Honestly, it looks like he’s still got his game face on.
Romano pauses for a second and then considers the cigar question for himself. He decides to remove it from his lips and places it on a nearby ledge. He’s holding his blue ‘Take October’ shirt and begins to wring it out onto the concrete.
It’s immersed in booze, so he repeats it a few times before he’s content. When the shirt’s back on, he’s finally ready to hit the field.
A group of about 200 fans are gathered in the seats behind both dugouts. It’s a warm evening, adding to what is quite a beautiful scene. The Rogers Centre roof is open and the sky’s twilight is accented by the CN Tower. The video board in centre field features the word ‘Clinched’ in giant gold lettering, providing the perfect backdrop for photos.
Kevin Kiermaier is like the party version of a Terminator. He’s walking calmly around the infield, amidst all the personnel on the field, bobbing his head to the music and miming dance moves.
He spots a group of fans along the third-base line and decides to put on a show for them. The charismatic veteran raises a Bud Light toward them as if to offer cheers, then holds the can high in the air, tipping it slightly so that he can chug a waterfall of beer. He makes eye contact with the cheering crowd, then spits out the beer in the form of a mist, almost like WWE wrestler Triple-H.
Kiermaier’s not done, though. He spots Matt Chapman a few feet away and moves in for a celebratory hug. Then the Terminator keeps it moving. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Espinal, Berrios and interpreter Hector Lebron are taking a photo? Not without Kiermaier.
Danny Jansen is standing alone with a can of Budweiser in his right hand, taped up, of course, to protect the fractured middle finger that is keeping him sidelined for at least the beginning of the post-season. A teammate can’t drink alone, so Kiermaier makes a beeline for the catcher to offer cheers and a hug.
Once their conversation is over and Kiermaier moves on to his next target, a group of players’ wives is gathered together and determines a selfie won’t fit everybody in the frame. Ever the gentleman, Jansen jumps in and offers to take a photo of the group. With his left hand, of course.
Whit Merrifield’s answering a question about the Twins, when he spots a familiar face near lurking behind the camera.
“Hi Whit,” a voice replies.
Between puffs of his cigar, Merrifield continues answering questions from the assembled media.
The Twins? They’re a good team, not to be underestimated.
Who’s having the most fun today? He is, even if Kiermaier’s louder.
As for the Blue Jays’ offence? Sure, it would have been nice to score eight runs a game all year, but they’re here now and that’s got to count for something.
“Come on, Whit,” Guerrero Jr. interrupts from the back.
Wearing blue Crocs, a drenched t-shirt and neon green ski goggles, the first baseman has a smile on his face and a half-full bottle of champagne under his arm. Celebrating a second consecutive playoff appearance was a lot of fun. Waiting for Merrifield, not so much.
Soon enough, Merrifield has answered every question and he gives way to Guerrero.
“Sorry man I’m kind of drunk,” Merrifield says. “Me too,” Guerrero laughs, making his way past the crowd in front of the camera.
The levity persists as Guerrero takes his turn in front of the camera. But toward the end of the conversation, when Guerrero is asked about the pain of losing to Seattle a year ago, it’s clear he’s serious about the task at hand.
“Not just that one,” he replied via Lebron, the interpreter. “I’ve still got 2020 against Tampa on my mind, (too).”
Growing up around baseball, Bo Bichette’s always had a little bit of a been-there, done-that maturity to him. That the regular season was such a grind was no surprise to him.
“It’s been up and down, but you can’t expect anything else from a baseball season, to be honest. That should be what we expect every year,” he said on the infield, after the players had gathered for a group photo. “We’ve been able to overcome it, which I think is a special thing.”
As such, the exuberance of the partying was reflective of a stress release.
“It’s a time to have fun and not worry about anything,” he explained. “We’re just trying to live in the moment, enjoy this and move on.”
Work resumes Monday and Bichette wasn’t really into the stressful-run-battle-testing-the-group narrative.
“When the post-season starts, the post-season starts. It’s a whole different animal,” he said. “There are some things we’ve got to overcome. We haven’t done well so far in our first couple of trips. We need to show up ready to play.”