Also in this series: Part 2, Part 3.
Lifelong team commitments are often borne from geographic proximity—rooting for the home team, the local nine. The Blue Jays are not and have never been my local nine. (If I did have a local nine, it would be the Mariners.) They have always been far away from me, in a part of Canada so different from the place I’ve always lived that it could be a different country.
The Blue Jays have always come to me on a screen or in a voice or at Safeco Field. I have come to know the SkyDome/Rogers Centre so well; the image of the CN Tower cutting through the sky when the roof is open is etched in my brain. But the place itself remains entirely unfamiliar to me. I’ve never been there. I’ve never had the chance before now.
Lately I’ve been wondering if I even like baseball anymore. It’s a thought that would have seemed unfathomable to me even a year ago, almost sacrilegious. It’s not a productive thought to be having, either, because it doesn’t matter if I like baseball. I have to pay attention to it anyway. I have to think of things to say, because it’s my job to—it’s an obligation. But I find it harder to pay attention to a baseball game, much less derive any meaning from it, than I have in as long as I can remember.
I no longer have the drive to wake up and watch games that I used to. I have been mostly nocturnal for the past eight months, and the time of day when baseball games are typically played passes by in a haze of fatigue. The moments of clarity are occasional at best, and when they do happen they are overwhelming, coming out of nowhere and pricking me like sharp bits of glass. But it never lasts long. It doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to feel. I can’t decide which possibility is more upsetting: that I’ve ruined my favorite sport for myself by turning it into a source of stress, another opportunity for failure that I have to be afraid of, or that nothing, not even baseball, is safe from the sickness.
I am standing in my room, staring at my empty backpack. I am going to Toronto for the weekend to see the Blue Jays. I have never been to Toronto. I have never traveled by myself, and I’ve been on a plane maybe three times, all 10 years ago. The Jays just got swept by the Rays—I didn’t watch a single one of those games. They’re facing an actual good team in the Nationals this weekend, and I am resigned to the fact that after all this time, I am probably just going to go get a sunburn for three days and watch my team get swept.
It seems deeply unfair that this particular version of me is the one that gets the opportunity to fulfill a dream so long in the making. Two years ago I was overjoyed just to receive a Troy Tulowitzki jersey; in my mind, the possession of even this third-degree baseball relic was something of a miracle. Now, I throw some clothes and a towel into my backpack. I fold up my boarding pass, my two printed-out tickets for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games. My doctor said that the reason why I wasn’t looking forward to the trip was because I’m depressed right now. I wasn’t so sure. She was sure, because she said that before, when I’d talked about baseball, I had been so excited that that she could feel it herself. I wanted to walk out of the office when she said that. I felt like I had failed.
My plane leaves in five hours, and everything is still flat. I’m never alive at the right time.
I became Blue Jays fan because I grew up watching them, and I grew up watching them because my older brother was a fan. He was a fan not out of any sense of Canadian national pride, but because, at four years old, the first tee-ball team he’d played for was called the Blue Jays. His allegiance was set when he was given his tee-ball uniform, which made no effort to replicate the team’s actual jerseys—a bright blue raglan with white sleeves, BLUE JAYS across the chest in nondescript block letters. I became a Blue Jays fan because when I was 17, too long focused on dying to have any real interests, my younger brother, who is nine years younger than me, saw the Blue Jays on TV and decided to start following them out of sheer curiosity. It was because he was watching them that I noticed one day in July that they’d traded for the player who had once been my favorite. I became a Blue Jays fan because I had emerged from darkness and found them there waiting for me, just like they’d always been.
I’ve worn my Tulowitzki jersey outside maybe three times since I got it. As I get ready to leave for the airport, I put it on over the hoodie I bought specifically for the purpose of being comfortable while flying. I’ll be wearing it to the games I’m seeing, and I don’t want to compromise its safety by scrunching it up in my backpack. As little as I have been feeling lately, and despite Tulo’s complete absence from baseball, I maintain a strange level of reverence for this object. It was a gift, and it hangs in my room, facing outward, always where I can see it. When I look in the mirror, I start feeling like something real is happening.
By the time I get randomly selected for searching at security, the feeling has become more definite. It might be the three cups of coffee that I downed in quick succession right before leaving home, but I feel suddenly awake. They don’t find anything suspicious in my bag, and my flight is scheduled to depart at 11:15 pm. The hour and a half that I have between now and then passes bafflingly quickly. I do laps around the various gates, trying to look out the windows from every possible vantage point. I ride the moving walkways. I get asked more than once if I’m lost, or if I’m one of the people being called over the intercom who are on the verge of missing their flights. And I run into local legend Justin, co-founder of the East Van Baseball League, who I know from Twitter. He’s here for the same reason I am, albeit with the opposite rooting interest. I continue on my way, each lap more frenzied than the last.
By the time I board the plane, it is pitch black outside. From above, made up of a series of tiny lights, Vancouver looks a lot bigger than it feels. I am grateful that baseball has brought me here, at least. Even if the weekend isn’t what I need it to be, I’m seeing something new.
When I wake up, it is to the sun rising over the lake.
By the time I was five, my brother had long outgrown the Blue Jays tee-ball shirt. It was tucked away, always folded neatly in a drawer in my room. I felt a strange affinity for it. Though I never wore it outside, I would wear it around my room as I made up futures for myself.
I outgrew it eventually, far faster than my older brother had. But the shirt still exists, folded there in that same drawer, and my younger brother wears it sometimes. It still fits him.
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