During Josh Donaldson’s return to the Rogers Centre on Tuesday, the Blue Jays and their fans did a proper job of honouring their former MVP. It was good to see.
It’s always weird when you see a former Blue Jay in a new uniform, especially one that made such an impact while he was in Toronto.
That’s what the fans were treated to on Tuesday evening as Josh Donaldson returned as a member of the Atlanta Braves. The two teams squared off in the opener of a short two-game set, and Donaldson went 0-4 in his return to the ballpark that he made his own for most of four seasons from 2015-2018.
There was talk last year that the 2015 AL MVP had wanted to remain a “Blue Jay for life”, but that obviously didn’t come to fruition. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians at the 11th hour of the August trade waive period, getting only Julian Merryweather in return for the once lethal hitter. That was mostly due to the fact that Donaldson had failed to stay healthy for most of the 2018 season, and there were legitimate questions about whether he was even healthy enough to be traded at the time that the deal went down.
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It wasn’t a storybook ending for Donaldson and the Blue Jays, but thankfully things didn’t sour to the point where there are any long-lasting hard feelings. At least not the type that can’t be put aside for a night like this, when the organization and the fans wanted to make sure that he was aware of how much he was, and still is appreciated.
Donaldson was even willing to admit that he still has some mixed feelings about how his tenure in Toronto ended, but he stopped short of saying anything that was too publicly critical when he met with reporters before the game. The 33-year-old has been around the big leagues long enough to understand that it’s a business, even if not all things end the way you want them to.
"“I think what probably nags at me the most is just kinda how my career finished here in Toronto, not even able to play at the time, trying to fight as hard as I could to get back. It wasn’t working out. And then how everything transpired was something that — it’s tough. At the end of the day you try to separate it as a business, but as a human being it can be tough. We do get frustrated and we do have other emotions that come about it.I’m very understanding of what’s going on. Even though things didn’t work out the way necessarily I wanted it to, I’m glad I was able to bounce back this year and I knew that I was capable of doing that.”"
Even if things didn’t end perfectly between Donaldson and the Blue Jays, it was great to see how well the reunion went. Truthfully, I’ve been a little disappointed with how some of the last generation of Blue Jays have or haven’t been “respected”, and I felt like Tuesday was a very positive example of what I’d like to see when the club has to move on from a beloved veteran.
The organization put together a great tribute video that was played before the game, which was a classy touch that I was pleased to see. The reality is, Donaldson is one of only two MVPs in a Blue Jay uniform (the other being George Bell in 1987), and he helped ignite a generation of baseball fans in Canada.
While I was pleased to see the Blue Jays take the step of putting together the tribute video, it was the reaction from the fans that satisfied me for the evening. I know it should be obvious that a guy like Donaldson would get a standing ovation in his return to Toronto, but we’ve witnessed some goofy stuff before. I mean, Andrew Luck was booed off the field in Indianapolis this past weekend, which was such a shame to see. I wanted to see a standing ovation from the Blue Jay faithful, and thankfully that’s exactly what happened.
I know these are small things, but in a lot of ways they’re not. Josh Donaldson meant a lot to Blue Jays fans, and while it’s understandable that the front office wanted to turn the reigns over to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third base rather than invest in an aging veteran, that doesn’t mean it was easy to say goodbye. Thankfully saying the opportunity to say, “hello again” turned out to be a great evening.