Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So Long, Doc

Something funny happened in Toronto this past weekend. Canada Day weekend, as always, is a memorable occasion for those thankful for their country. In Toronto, the sunbathed city streets were lined with red and white. Even the least patriotic appeared to have raided the darkest corners of their closets for anything resembling national colors, as if to do otherwise would have been akin to treason. And while I shared in the collective fervor of a country in the midst of a return to its glory days – peace through strength, what a novel concept – my gaze was fixated elsewhere: the SkyDome.

The Dome, now a giant multimedia store known as the Rogers Centre, is not the world’s prettiest ballpark. Hell, it’s not even a ballpark, it’s a concrete, soulless slab; but it’s OUR concrete, soulless slab. Nevertheless, on a beautiful summer day with the roof open it at least gives off the vibe of a Major League ballpark. That’s why, with a perfect weather report, the choice was simple: Canada Day weekend would be spent at the “ballpark”.

The choice, however, was never really a choice at all. Finally, Roy Halladay was returning to his former home as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Halladay, long burdened with the weight of Toronto’s failed sporting hopes on his shoulders, was well deserving of the hero’s welcome he received upon his arrival Friday. Greeted by 45,000 fans and a standing ovation as he presented the Phillies’ lineup card pre-game, he wore what was likely the biggest smile he’d ever had in the city of Toronto. And while he wouldn’t pitch ‘til Saturday, it didn’t seem to matter at the time. The Doc was home. But that’s when the unexpected began.

Somewhere between the national anthems, a tribute to the Canadian Forces, a plethora of Jose Bautista home runs (one even off Halladay, how symbolic), a horrendous piece of umpiring by the much-maligned Alfonso Marquez, and three hotly-contested, emotional games, it stopped being about Roy Halladay. That might not sound like much, but for a city so awash in its own sporting nostalgia – done so to make up for the failings of the present – it was a notable achievement.

Closure is not a term synonymous with Toronto sports fandom. We don’t win titles, we don’t make the playoffs, and we often lose our best and brightest to greener, more southern pastures. But this weekend felt different. Not different in the way Maple Leafs fans tell themselves that this season will be the one, or how Raptors fans hold onto the hope that this new tall and skinny European will be better than the last; but an actual, tangible, difference. For once it wasn’t about the past, or misguided dreams for the future. It was about a good young ball club competing hard over a weekend that saw around 110,000 fans join them in-person for the ride.

I was one of them, wearing my old Roy Halladay jersey – a fashion choice that seems silly now, but also fitting. For while I was berating Alfonso Marquez with unprintable expletives, and serenading Jose Bautista with chants of “MVP!” the name on the back of the jersey no longer mattered. It was about the name on the front. Something real.

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