One of the perks of getting a two dose summer is the boys are back in town! Of course I’m referring to the Blue Jays. Prior to COVID, I like many of you no doubt enjoyed a day at the park to check out the boys in blue play. A bit of a summer tradition if you will. There’s probably no more wholesome tradition than catching a baseball game in the sunshine. Unfortunately like so many other traditions, the pandemic stripped that away from us for so long. It has been replaced by something new.
I’ve been lucky to go to two games now since the Jays returned home. The first was the home opener on July 30th, the second was yesterday August 7th. Both presented strikingly different experiences and I suspect there is a very obvious reason behind each one. Something I hope will become apparent as I type this out. On July 30th, I was able to reunite with friends I had no seen since this pandemic began. It was a welcomed reunion and a lot of fun was had in catching up after almost two years of not seeing each other. What struck me at first was the shock at how empty the stadium looked with only the 100 level semi full and the 500 completely empty. At the same time, I couldn’t help but not notice as well the crowd as it was the largest I’d been in since the pandemic started. Mixed feelings to say the least. I was seated in the right field stands, and our seats were spaced out and for the most part fans were masked. Staff were on hand to remind fans to maintain masks on their face except for when eating or drinking of course. At that home game, we noticed one group of presumably intoxicated 20 somethings constantly ‘forgetting’ to wear their masks. Security repeatedly reminded them, until eventually they were asked to leave. In the next section over, there was a similar situation with a fan who seemed intoxicated and was not wearing their mask. This situation however, escalated to the police being called to escort him out. I left that game, reassured that the Blue Jays organization was taking COVID-19 seriously. I presumed because they had been wanting to return to in person games in Toronto, and the last thing they would need is the PR nightmare of being ground zero for a fourth wave. My friends and I walked out remarking that we felt safe and would return for future games without hesitation.
Which brings us to yesterday’s game. This time, my family joined me as we had been itching to get out of the house after a year and half of pandemic isolation. Getting tickets from a family member we enjoyed prime seats behind first base. And immediately this experience was noticeably different. Gone was the social distancing. People were sitting next, in front and behind us, as if it were a normal game. As well, while ushers and staff were present, masking requirements were considerably lax. Masking was more of a suggestion rather than mandatory. People to my left and directly in front and behind wore masks, however looking around I could see many people with masks pulled down or no where to be seen at all. I still felt safe with my family as the dome was open and the wide space allowed for air to circulate. Yet, the contrast between the two experiences couldn’t be more pronounced.
I reflected on it with my wife after the game. I couldn’t help but notice, that the area where we sat in the second game, was full of more affluent ticket holders. Many season ticket holders were around, so I could imagine the pressure to not upset this significant stakeholder. There is also the image of wanting to project a full stadium for television, so the areas behind dugouts and home plate being full of people plays to a great image on the screen. Lastly, I remarked the last thing anyone would want is to see an altercation live on national television of the police escorting a drunken buffoon away for not wearing a mask.
It’s easy to say that the Jays have a double standard, which was my first instinct in this situation. However, 24 hours later I’m not so sure. It would’ve been a lot easier to just look the other way entirely as a policy regards to masking. However its clear they didn’t. I want to believe that MLSE is taking this seriously and want to ensure that the image of the Rogers Centre, Scotiabank Centre, BMO Field and all their properties as safe venues remain intact. However, the challenges of enforcing a masking policy in a venue full of thousands of people is challenging in itself. Eventually the numbers of anti-maskers or lazy will win out. It’s inevitable. So how do we ensure that venues like Rogers Centre remain safe as possible from COVID-19? Something I’ve said before and is becoming more popular day by day. Vaccine passports.
The time has come to implement an easy to show vaccine proof card. Walking into a venue like Rogers Centre would be easy enough, as going through security to have to show your card. No card, no entry. Simple as that. I’d consider it like being carded when I want to buy a beer at the concession stands. A proof of vaccine card would go miles to help keep the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum in a place like that. The time for the carrot is over with COVID-19. The vaccines work and they save lives. Those of us who have done our part during this pandemic are growing tired of having to accommodate the belligerent. Our patience is growing thin. I for one, want my baseball back. I want to keep going to Jays games. I want to create new memories with my children and pass on my passion for the game to them. Thats what we sacrificed during this pandemic. I’m not willing to sacrifice it again for the ignorant.