Toronto Blue Jays fans should be pleased with their baseball club considering the obstacles they have had to go through this season.
It’s still absolutely mind boggling to me how Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins recruited free agent players like Marcus Semien, George Springer, and Robbie Ray considering the logistical obstacles the organization were up against due to the current and on-going pandemic.
Just before the shortened 2020 Major League Baseball season there was uncertainty where the Toronto Blue Jays were going to call home. There were travel restrictions imposed by the Canadian Federal Government due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Blue Jays submitted a proposal for their team at Rogers Centre. It wasn’t approved to start the season, and the Jays had to find an alternative site for home games.
The recently re-developed TD Stadium was not an option even with the Major League facilities due to the case counts in the state of Florida. A lot of the Major League Franchises had their summer training camps in their home Major League Stadium.
There were rumblings that the club could play out of PNC Park in Pittsburgh and share the stadium with the Pirates as the season was shortened, the logistics of getting 60 home games in two months could have worked. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays the PNC plan did not work out so they had to look within their organization to their Triple-A affiliate the Buffalo Bisons.
If you look at the video below courtesy of nitroradio99 from YouTube, you can see the City of Buffalo’s Pitch for a Major League Baseball team. The stadium at the time was known as Pilot Field. Bob Rich who continues to be the primary Owner of the Buffalo Bisons had a dream of Major League Baseball coming to Western New York.
In this post from ShabbaBoop on Reddit, you’ll see Pilot Field as a Major League Baseball Park. Unfortunately for Buffalo they lost out to the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies. Buffalo continued to play at Pilot Field with the Triple A Buffalo Bisons franchise which stands today. With the Minor League season cancelled the Blue Jays found a home for the 2020 season.
The Blue Jays made it work with a 17-9 record making the readjusted playoffs. They made some acquisitions at the trade deadline such as Jonathan Villar, Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling. The players didn’t make excuses for playing in a Triple A park which had no fans. They continued to play together and make it work. With whisperings of a COVID 19 vaccine being approved, there was some hope that maybe the Blue Jays could return to Toronto in 2021.
Not knowing for certain where the team was going to play, Robbie Ray who pitched as a very effective bulk guy down the stretch of the 2020 season, re-signed with the club for one year and and a payment of eight million dollars. There were rumours that the club was interested in bringing over all-star Shortstop Francisco Lindor via trade. That never materialized, but what they did get for $18 million dollars was a very underrated and possibly overlooked player named Marcus Semien.
Semien was known for being a leader in the clubhouse in Oakland, as he was a mainstay in their lineup at shortstop playing all 162 games in 2019 belting 33 home runs and driving in 92 runs with a .369 on base percentage. Semien was third in American League MVP voting that year. After getting into 53 of 60 games with the Athletics in 2020 he became a free agent and indicated to the Blue Jays he was willing to move to second base to accommodate Bo Bichette playing shortstop.
The Blue Jays also won the George Springer sweepstakes beating out the New York Mets for his services. Springer, the long-time Houston Astro and All-Star outfielder, hit the free agent market looking for a long-term contract. The Blue Jays made it clear that even though they may not start the year playing in the Rogers Centre, they still wanted to compete in the juggernaut that was the American League East. Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro did a great job selling the potential of this team to those free agents in order to get them to sign.
With COVID still running rampant throughout North America, the Blue Jays put a plan in place to start their season playing in Dunedin for the first few home stands of the year and then transition back to Sahlen Field in Buffalo. Then finally If all went well, they could transition back to Toronto and play in front of Rogers Centre.
They started their home schedule at TD Ballpark in Dunedin on April 8th with a loss against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They played their last home game there against the Tampa Bay Rays on Victoria Day which this year fell on May 24th. Major League Baseball welcomed fans back into the ballparks across the game. On what seemed to be a few occasions, even though the Blue Jays were the home club it felt like they didn’t have a home field due to the proximity of the visiting teams.
Still the Blue Jays didn’t complain and they never waivered as they returned to Sahlen Field to a supportive crowd against the Miami Marlins. The Blue Jays felt a little more at home with the majority of the players playing at Sahlen Field last year or at some point in their minor league careers. The Blue Jays put money into expanding the clubhouses and they put a lot of effort in to getting the amenities up to Major League Standards.
The Blue Jays didn’t replicate the success they had at Sahlen Field last season. They had an 11-12 record in 23 games in Buffalo. Just like in Dunedin, the road teams sometimes had the home field advantage due to the proximity. Yankees and Red Sox fans showed up in droves to out-cheer the Blue Jays fans in Buffalo. Just like all of us the Jays received the news that the Canadian Federal Government approved their proposal to return back to Rogers Centre this past July 30th. Even though the energy towards the finish line of the 2021 season changed it was still hard on some players to pack up their stuff and move for a third time.
The Blue Jays entered play at 51-48 before they faced the Kansas City Royals on Friday July 30th. As I write this, they are 31-17 since that date and they are playing in meaningful September baseball games. At this point it is absolutely remarkable just how resilient and positive this club is, I don’t think you can find me another team that could have duplicated what the 2020 or 2021 Blue Jays have accomplished.
The Blue Jays organization should be very proud of how they have dealt with the uncertainty of the past season and a half. No matter what happens over the next few weeks of the playoff race, Blue Jays fans should be very pleased with their team because it is a huge accomplishment to be in the playoff race considering what they had to overcome just to get back home to Toronto. The best part is this team will go down to the wire. Like you, I cannot wait to see what happens.