In This Time of Crisis, The Blue Jays Can Unify Toronto

Tonight the Toronto Blue Jays will play the most important game of their season. Typically, the 25th game of 162 bears little significance, and from a baseball history standpoint this game won’t matter much. But to the people of Toronto, this game is almost not about baseball at all.

 

Yesterday something terrible happened in Toronto.

 

A 25 year-old man, suspected to be suffering from mental illness, plowed a Ryder rental van onto a crowded sidewalk at Yonge St., beginning at Finch Ave. and ending close to Sheppard Avenue. 10 were killed, 15 were injured and countless lives – from the families of those impacted to the witnesses to the horror to the first responders who rushed to the scene – were forever changed.

 

In a city with a population nearing three million people, those directly impacted by the tragedy is relatively small. But the problem with acts of horror and natural disasters that keep occurring throughout the world is that they actually wound the city itself, and its people. For now and evermore, #TorontoStrong will join the ranks of the other hashtags that remind people of a place and time and tragedy that forever altered a place and the people that love it.

 

There is a lot of healing ahead for the city of Toronto. And as we saw last night at the Toronto Maple Leafs/Boston Bruins Stanley Cup play-off game 6, sports has a way of bringing people together to start that process.

 

Tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays will help the city continue to recover by “recognizing this tragic incident,” said Jays Baseball Media Manager Ryan Brown. Details of exactly how they planned to do so, however, were staying under wraps, he said.

 

Baseball as a Balm

In an interesting twist of fate, the Jays play the first game of a three game series against the Boston Red Sox tonight. And while the rivalry is sure to be as fierce as ever when the game starts at 7:07 p.m., the Red Sox most certainly carry a heavy heart for the city of Toronto today knowing all too well how it feels to play under the pall of tragedy.

 

The Red Sox finished the last game of a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays April 15, 2013, about an hour before two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and maiming hundreds of people. They were enroute to Cleveland when news of the horrors started to unfold and brainstormed ways to show the city it was in their hearts and on their minds. They hung a grey road jersey in the dugout bearing the Boston Area Code (617). Upon their first game back home, April 20, they honored the first responders with a special ceremony, and then David Ortiz delivered a speech (which he re-enacted for a movie about the bombings) with a line that, Bill Shaikin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, became an anthem for the city.

 

Beyond the park, the team got out into the city, visited those affected by the bombings and continued to carry the #BostonStrong banner all season long. In a time of great sadness, and fear, the Red Sox gave the people of Boston something the cheer for and an escape from the devastation that rocked their city.

 

For the Houston Astros, a natural disaster of epic proportion drowned their city in the midst of a historic season, destroying around 100,000 homes and forcing nearly a million residents throughout the state to file claims for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some of the homes impacted in fact, belonged to members of the team and their staff, and even though Minute Maid Park was largely unaffected by Hurricane Harvey, the flooding forced the team to play three “home” games in Florida in late August. And yet, players made the time to work at distribution centers in Houston, meeting the displaced at shelters, establishing funds for victims and wearing Houston Strong patches on their uniforms.

 

Following their World Series win, Astros fans hailed the team as their heroes for bringing their city back to life and providing residents with moments of joy in a time of immense distress.

 

Last night, the Leafs’ win provided the city with a huge boost of spirits. But the coming days will be heavy with grief and anger. Baseball can’t take away the pain and fear, but it can bring people together and for a few brief hours, offer those hurting an escape.

 

 

 

Cover image courtesy The Toronto Blue Jays

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Joy Frank-Collins is a Communications professional who got her start writing as a journalist at a daily newspaper in southeastern Ohio. She was born in Reds country, but “found” baseball watching the 1986 Mets win the World Series. A long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan, she added the Blue Jays as her AL team the day they picked up Russell Martin. She lives in Marietta, Ohio, with her family, who all share her passion for baseball. She loves the suicide squeeze, a crisp 6-4-3 double play and catchers. When not obsessing over baseball, Joy likes to work out, travel and drink wine.

Joy Frank-Collins

Joy Frank-Collins is a Communications professional who got her start writing as a journalist at a daily newspaper in southeastern Ohio. She was born in Reds country, but “found” baseball watching the 1986 Mets win the World Series. A long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan, she added the Blue Jays as her AL team the day they picked up Russell Martin. She lives in Marietta, Ohio, with her family, who all share her passion for baseball. She loves the suicide squeeze, a crisp 6-4-3 double play and catchers. When not obsessing over baseball, Joy likes to work out, travel and drink wine.