During an offseason fireside chat on Wednesday, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said he felt “pretty confident” his team would be playing in Toronto “at some point” during the 2021 baseball season.
But when those words were echoed back to him a few minutes later, Shapiro bristled.
“Taking that ‘pretty confident’ is selectively taking one piece of a long group of comments. I probably would not use that to characterize my entire comments there.”
(I would. But that’s just me and my literal understanding of the English language.)
Shapiro banged on for another little while, but-on-the-other-hand-ing his way around his club’s pandemic problems.
He wrapped that second try up this way: “… but I think there is reason to be optimistic and hopeful that we will play in Toronto this year.”
This isn’t to pick on Shapiro. His colleagues across every major sport sound this way when they talk about the immediate future. There is the way decades of exponential growth have trained them to speak about their industry, and the wretched state of affairs they suddenly find themselves in. Nobody has yet reconciled the two things.
All of them are confident, except when you ask them questions. Things will continue as normal, unless they won’t. They believe in the business model, but they’re also going broke.
A good deal of Shapiro’s time was given over to that annual Blue Jays obsession – all the amazing free agents the team won’t end up singing, but totally could if it wanted to.
“I think the resources are going to be there,” Shapiro said, smiling and nodding like someone who is pretty sure the resources are not going to be there.
To hear the man in charge tell it, things are just jamming right along for the Jays. Won a few this year. Money to spend. Future’s so bright, Shapiro will be doing his next few Zooms in a sweater vest and eyeblack.
Then another literalist had to bring up the employees the Jays laid off in the past few weeks. When asked for a specific number of people who’ve lost their jobs amid all this hopefulness, Shapiro would not supply one.
“The recovery – a full recovery – is likely a two- to three-year recovery before our business is back to some sense of normal,” Shapiro said.
As soon as fans are back in attendance, baseball will have returned to “normal,” regardless of whose sense that is. Shapiro is “optimistic” that is less than a year away from happening. But he also thinks it is two to three years away.
Like a lot of things about the Toronto Blue Jays (and life), I’m confused.
A great deal has been written about how uncertain our lives have become over the past seven months. But it’s worse than that. We have become decoupled from reality. Because when we speak about ‘reality’ now, we’re actually talking about a time before March, 2020.
While things have changed, we continue to expect that at some point in the next few months, we will pick our March, 2020, lives back up where we dropped them off and continue on from that point. This presumes that reality is static, and can be frozen at our preferred point. Which a lot of recorded history assures us it does not.
Existing in these two states requires a sweet bit of cognitive dissonance. Part of you is living in the right now – cooped up, worried about your job, trying to figure out if it is illegal to light a hobo-style barrel fire on your balcony.
Another part continues to live in the recent past, when things were normal. That part has not yet accepted that maybe, just maybe, pre-March, 2020, is gone. That it won’t come back. Not as it was.
This divide between things as they are and things as they ought to be is clear everywhere (be straight with me, you’ve already planned next summer’s vacation, haven’t you? You have, haven’t you?). But it is nowhere in greater relief than when you listen to a sports executive.
Basketball and hockey have no idea when they will start again, but they both know they’d rather not play through another summer. Which would logically leave them each losing a full season. Except no one wants to say that out loud. Because the NHL and NBA would prefer to live in the world before March, 2020, while existing in the one after it.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the other day that clubs collectively lost US$3-billion this year. There is no suggestion that they will be fully open for business in 2021. Until someone comes up with a vaccine that is proved effective, there is no suggestion baseball will be fully open for years.
But things are fine! To hear Manfred tell it, his biggest problem is figuring out if baseball new’s playoff format ought to be permanent. He said rather less about the flat-lining enterprise he oversees that’s been put in existential danger by a health crisis that continues to get worse.
Because it is beyond the ken of sports types – innoculated for so long from the lived reality of the common folk – to accept that things can ever get worse.
In sports, worse is another word for adversity. Adversity makes you better. So when things get worse, they are actually getting better.
It doesn’t make any sense when you say it like that, but we are all telling ourselves some version of this. The election will go the right way; the world will calm down; the economy will bounce back; that miracle drug is coming any day now; and, dammit, I will go to Machu Picchu in July like I always said I would.
We’re all trapped in this dual reality. And to be honest, devoting some serious time worrying about how the Jays get better defence is preferable to thinking too hard about the other thing.