A deafening crowd roar rose up – from the speakers, not from the seats – as the Washington Nationals stepped onto the pitch, the neon billboards flashing and flashing their hypnotic hype to no one in particular.
The canned crowd was quickly reduced to a whisper, however, when Jays lead batsman Teoscar Hernandez pierced Anibal Sanchez’s second pitch of the night in the empty right-field stands, his first home run of the season, the only audible applause from Toronto. dugout as Hernandez rounded the bases.
He restarted four innings later, but not before first baseman Rowdy Tellez and wide receiver Danny Jansen had already followed Hernandez’s lead, their collective efforts resulting in a 4-1 lead the Jays did. have never given up.
Outside the baseball stadium, what would normally be a boisterous crowd of well-oiled, Nats-clad supporters was reduced to a single superfan during a lone vigil, a lone protester determined to convince the league to leave a limited number of people watch the game in person. .
“It’s surreal,” said Hayden Bluth, carrying a sign reading “Sell me tickets”, as he strolled outside the stadium, occasionally reading his sign at the top of his lungs.
Bluth said he listened to the games on his phone, but the stream was delayed for 30 seconds, meaning he often captured details of the action on the giant video screen – partially visible from the street – long before you hear. play-by-play thanks to its headphones.
“The scoreboard beats me to the max. So I see what’s going on based on this central pitch chart, ”he said. “It’s just very weird. ”
Santiago Espinal, meanwhile, is only dealing with the pandemic in the only way he knows how: by staying at home as much as possible.
The rookie infielder, who played his first game with the Jays on Saturday in Tampa Bay, said staying put was the best way to defend against the risk of getting infected on the road – which, for Toronto, banned from playing in his country of origin. , it is now all the time.
“The only thing we can do is take care of each other,” Espinal said.
“Personally, I don’t even go out. I order my food in the room, I eat in the room, I put everything I need in the room, and I just stay in the room. I’m not going out because I don’t want to (test) positive. ”
How long Espinal’s rookie season will last remains an open question.
Monday’s Miami Marlins home opener was abruptly called off this weekend after a number of players tested positive for COVID-19, including Espinal’s close friend Harold Ramirez. The New York-Philadelphia game was also called off, as the Yankees were reportedly in the same clubhouse the Marlins used last weekend.
The biggest challenges remain, Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said – especially early next month, when the Jays are expected to host Miami at Sahlen Field in their first games at their new home in Buffalo, N.Y. The Jays also have two more series with Tampa Bay next month – a home, one away – and a road series in Miami in early September.
What happened to the Marlins “could happen to any team,” Montoyo said, offering his sympathies and best wishes to rival Toronto, Florida.
“When we left Canada, there were concerns – you know, we have to follow the guidelines. It won’t be easy. We’re going to Florida, it’s a hot spot. So we all talk about it and meet the coaches every day and make sure we keep communicating with the guys just to be careful and follow the guidelines. ”
Right-hander Tanner Roark, a former National who signed with the Jays in the offseason as a free agent, said when players show up on the pitch it is important not to dwell on what he described as “a very strange season for everyone.” ”
“You just have to be extremely careful. And fingers crossed, I guess, ”shrugged, who was much more comfortable talking about his return to a familiar city and rough stage than the complications resulting from the pandemic.
The positive test results have cast a veil over a stalled abridged season that is not even a week old, thanks to a pandemic that has already forced the Jays to call Buffalo after the federal government refused to let them play in Canada.
Roark said the decision has been made to play ball, so it’s time for players and teams to execute that decision to the best of their ability.
“We have decided to play one season, so ultimately that’s what we’re going to try to do our best,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the guys test positive, and, you know, I hope they’re okay and going through the process and stuff. ”
Espinal, for his part, does not let the circumstances discourage him.
“I know what’s going on and I know what’s going on in the world, so what I’m trying to do is try to be careful,” he said.
“When I’m on the pitch, when I’m here in the locker room, my goal is to do my job and try to help the team win. And as soon as the game is over, I just try to be careful. Stay in my room. And that’s all. ”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 27, 2020.