Blue Jays taking on World Series champs in D.C. as COVID-19 roils league

Blue Jays taking on World Series champs in D.C. as COVID-19 roils league

Blue Jays taking on World Series champs in D.C. as COVID-19 roils league

WASHINGTON — Nine months after bearing witness to a thrilling World Series, the stands at Nationals Park stood desolate and deserted Monday as the Toronto Blue Jays faced the reigning champs and Major League Baseball’s pandemic-racked season lurched haltingly forward.

A Canadian flag replaced the World Champions banner inside the centre-field entry gate, its doors and turnstiles locked tight to protect against the spread of COVID-19 — a virus that’s already playing havoc with the league’s efforts to get its truncated season underway.

A thunderous crowd roar went up — from the speakers, not the seats — when the Washington Nationals took the field, the neon billboards blinking and flashing their hypnotic hype to no one in particular.

The canned crowd was quickly reduced to a murmur, however, when Jays leadoff batter Teoscar Hernandez drilled Anibal Sanchez’s second pitch of the night into the empty right-field stands, the only audible applause coming from the Toronto dugout as Hernandez rounded the bases.

Outside the ballpark, what would normally be raucous throngs of Nats-garbed, well-oiled supporters were reduced to a single superfan on a lonely vigil, a lone protester determined to convince the league to let a limited number of people watch the game in person.

“It’s surreal,” said Hayden Bluth, toting a placard that read “Sell Me Tickets,” as he wandered around the outside of the stadium, occasionally reading out his sign at the top of his lungs.

Bluth said he listens to the games on his phone, but the feed is delayed by as much as 30 seconds, which means he often catches details of the action on the giant video screen — partially visible from the street — long before he hears the play-by-play through his earbuds.

“The scoreboard is beating me to the punch. So I’m seeing what’s happening based on that centre-field board,” he said. “It’s just very bizarre.”

Santiago Espinal, on the other hand, is just taking the pandemic in stride the only way he knows how: by staying home as much as possible.

The rookie infielder, who played his first game with the Jays on Saturday at Tampa Bay, said staying put is the best way to defend against the risk of getting infected on the road — which, for Toronto, banned from playing in its home country, is now all the time.

“The only thing that we can do is take care of each other,” Espinal said.

“Personally, me, 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 don’t go out because I don’t want to (test) positive.”

How much longer Espinal’s rookie season will last remains an open question.

Monday’s Miami Marlins home opener was abruptly cancelled on the 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, since the Yankees would have been in the same clubhouse the Marlins used last weekend.

The biggest challenges still lie ahead, said Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo — particularly early next month, when the Jays are scheduled 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 — one 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 Toronto’s Florida rival.

“The moment we left Canada, there was concern — you know, we’ve got to follow the guidelines. It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to Florida, that’s a hot spot. So we talk about it all the time and we meet with 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 off-season as a free agent, said when players take to the field, it’s important not to dwell on what he described as “a very weird season for everybody.”

“You’ve just got to be extremely careful. And keep your fingers crossed, I guess,” shrugged Roark, who was far more comfortable talking about his return to a familiar city and ballpark than he was about the complications arising from the pandemic.

The positive test results have cast a pall over a stalled, abbreviated season that’s not even a week old, thanks to a pandemic that has already forced the Jays to call Buffalo home after the federal government refused to let them play in Canada.

Roark said the decision was made to play ball, so it’s time to for the players and the teams to execute that decision as best they can.

“We decided to play a season, so, ultimately, that’s what we’re going to try to do our best to do,” he said. “It’s unfortunate with guys testing positive, and, you know, hopefully they’re doing OK and going through the process and all that.”

Espinal, for one, isn’t letting the circumstances get him down.

“I know what’s going on and I know what is happening in the world, so what I’m trying to do is try to be careful,” he said.

“When I get on the field, when I get here in the locker room, my focus is to do my job and to try to help the team win. And as soon as that the game is over, I just try to be careful. Stay in my room. And that’s it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2020.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Blue Jays

Just Posted

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta’s declining COVID-19 numbers are a positive sign for the province. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer down to 634 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone down to 2,054 active cases

Photo/ Town of Millet
Town of Millet purchases electric zamboni

The Town of Millet recently purchased a brand new fully electric zamboni… Continue reading

The 24/7 Integrated Response Hub and emergency shelter have been in the Civic Building since November 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin revokes use of Civic Building as homeless shelter

The 24/7 Integrated Response Hub has been in the Civic Building since November 2020.

Photo/ Marlene Alberts
Millet Community Garden of Hope proves popular in its first year

The Town of Millet’s first community garden is completed and proving popular… Continue reading

(Historica Canada)
VIDEO: Heritage Minute marks 100th anniversary of work to discover insulin

Video centres on Leonard Thompson, 13, the first patient to receive successful injections for Type 1 diabetes

Robert Raymond Cook is guarded by RCMP officers after being arrested for the murder of his father. Cook was found guilty of his father’s murder and sentenced to death by hanging. He was never charged with the murder of his stepmother and five half-siblings but was believed to be guilty. Photo from Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Poem apparently written by convicted Stettler murderer Robert Raymond Cook surfaces in Athabasca County

Cook was executed in 1960 in connection with the slaying of his entire family in Stettler

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Black Press Media files)
Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

6 in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020

Capt. Jenn Casey died in a crash just outside of Kamloops, B.C., on May 17, 2020. (CF Snowbirds)
Snowbirds to honour Capt. Casey, who died in B.C. crash, in 2021 tour

Tour will kick off in Ontario in June before heading west

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

The historic Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne in southern Alberta is up for sale

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
Alberta RCMP investigating possible threat to police after Mirror rally

Online images show RCMP members, vehicles in crosshairs of a rifle

Most Read