“Vaccine passport, please,” the usher requested.
“I’m sorry,” he replied sheepishly. “I’ve been vaccinated, but left my passport at home.”
“That’s not good enough,” the usher replied in a harsh tone. “If you can’t provide proof, then you can’t sit here. There’s plenty of seats available for you between section 504 and section 516. Please go there now.”
Sections 504-516. He hoped he wouldn’t have to sit there, but the rules were strictly enforced.
The Blue Jays designated the area for fans who were not vaccinated. Everyone outside the organization called it the “Anti-Vaxxer Bleachers;” a place where those who chose not to get inoculated would be pointed out and demonized. The fact stadium staff assigned there wore hospital-grade gowns, in addition to their masks and face shields, was sheer proof.
As he walked to his seat, he could feel the angry glares from all around the stadium; the lower levels, the luxury boxes, the press box and – especially – the Flight Deck, which featured the most incandescent of condemnation. His night was ruined before the first pitch.
It wasn’t always like this.
Watching the Blue Jays was church. Baseball fuelled his soul and provided blissful escapism. Summer evenings – with the roof opened – allowed him to connect with the spirits of the game. He’d arrive early and drown in the warm temperatures and sunlight.
But the pandemic changed everything.
When fans were allowed to return, uncompromising policies were put in place to – as the Jays claimed – protect everyone’s health.
He hoped going to games would bring back a sense of normalcy. Instead, it created a new type of normal that he dreaded and no amount of escapism could change his longing for the past.
Despite his best efforts to ignore it, the new normal was an uncomfortable feeling that never subsided. Even if there was an attempt to disregard, the public address announcer provided sharp gestures:
The Blue Jays remind fans that all food and beverages must be consumed in designated areas throughout the stadium. Bottles and cups of water are permitted at your seats.
Alcohol and snack vendors were casualties of the new normal. He rarely drank, but longed to hear “Ice cold beer here!”
The Blue Jays welcome the New York Yankees for a three-game series, June 17-19. These matches are available for vaccinated and unvaccinated fans living in the Scarborough and North York quadrants.
The Boston Red Sox come to town for a four-game set, June 21-24. These matches are available for vaccinated and unvaccinated fans living in the Etobicoke and East York quadrants.
For fans living outside the City of Toronto, a limited number of tickets will be made available. Visit BlueJays.com for more information.
Selecting your own games was a casualty of the new normal. The Jays promised to be fair to everyone.
Jr. Jays Sundays are back! Fans 14 and under can enjoy various activities around the ballpark and run the bases just like the pros! Parents, please ensure you fill out an online health questionnaire and provide proof of a negative COVID test for each child attending. For more details, visit BlueJays.com.
An uncomfortable test just to watch a baseball game. The biggest challenge for kids used to be waiting in a long line to run the bases.
Got a question? Got a suggestion? Got a beef?
The Blue Jays are proud to offer online customer service kiosks for fans to share their experiences. Please text KIOSK to 416-341-1234 for a Zoom link.
Enjoy the game!
“Stop it,” he thought to himself. “You’re torturing me.”
Fans, at this time, we ask that you remove your hats; and those who are able to, please rise and remain silent for an audio presentation of the American and Canadian anthems.
Singing and anthem performers: Casualties of the new normal.
At least the game stayed the same.
He watched intensely. Pitch by pitch; inning by inning. Cheering for positive moments; cringing at negative ones.
Things were different, but at least he had baseball. And as long as there was baseball, he could tolerate the excruciating new normal.
And maybe everything would be alright. Maybe he would be alright.
But that all changed in the ninth inning.
The match was tied and the Jays had the winning run on second. Their best hitter was at the plate and fouled a fastball towards his section. The ball bounced and rolled until it reached the hands of a young girl.
She was watching the game with her father and her face lit up after capturing the ultimate souvenir. He couldn’t help but smile as he watched the child and her dad hug and high-five. It was a big deal after all. Made him think about being a father himself one day and bringing his own children to games.
But the moment was quickly ruined.
An usher rushed over, snatched the ball and doused the little girl’s hands with sanitizer. They then thrusted a tablet at the father and told him to sign an electronic waiver on the screen. The usher explained live game balls passed through several hands and could contain all kinds of germs. Team policy was to provide a replacement ball; one that was isolated and kept in an airtight bag.
Before anyone could object, the usher whisked away and soon returned with the so-called replacement.
It was a complete mockery.
Calling it a knock-off would be generous. It was a smaller baseball, overly colourful and covered with Jays’ logo and the branding of the team’s parental owner. More importantly, it wasn’t an official gameball. No declaration or Commissioner’s signature. Nobody comes to a game with the hopes of catching a cheap imitation that can easily be purchased at Wal-Mart.
Everyone knew it; even the little girl. She started to cry and was inconsolable. Her and her father left the ballpark just a few minutes later.
He wanted to cry too. That little girl was never going to watch baseball again. She was probably looking forward to this game for weeks; talked about it with all her friends. And now, she only has a painful and embarrassing memory.
He was powerless. His church turned into hell. And if this was how things would be, he wanted no part of it.
Before anyone could stop him, he made his way to the first row of the 500s, climbed over the railing and jumped to his death.
In front of horrified spectators, he became a casualty of the new normal.