Home Plate Lady will be back in her customary seat and the beer will be flowing, but it may take a few games before fans, starved since Sept. 29, 2019, of live professional baseball action in Toronto, grumble again about the price of their stadium-served brews.
As the Toronto Blue Jays hit the Rogers Centre field on Friday night for the first time in 670 days, kicking off with a three-game homestand against the Kansas City Royals, the team will welcome up to 15,000 fans for each game. They will sit in either standard seating (no separation between rows or other fans) or in pods of up to four seats that are physically distanced from others. No proof of vaccinations is required.
The team, which played the first four months of the season based out of its spring-training grounds in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, hopes the return home might give fortunes a boost. Toronto was still in the hunt for a playoff spot, 4½ games out of a wild-card berth before it was to face the Red Sox in Boston on Thursday night, having just shored up the bullpen. On Thursday, the Jays acquired veteran closer Brad Hand from the Washington Nationals in exchange for catcher Riley Adams. A three-time all-star, the left-handed Hand has a 5-5 record this season with 21 saves and a 3.59 ERA in 41 appearances for the Nationals.
Time is running out for more moves: The trade deadline is Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.
For fans, the live baseball experience will likely feel both familiar and deeply strange. Paper tickets aren’t permitted: Attendees will need to present a mobile ticket via the MLB Ballpark app, and must do so for themselves and no one else, to facilitate contact tracing. To boost natural airflow, the retractable roof will be open for the rest of the season, “except during inclement weather,” the team says.
Still, fans must wear masks at all times in the stadium, according to a health and safety protocol document on the team’s website, “except when actively eating or drinking in their seats.”
Forgetting a mask won’t be an excuse, at least for the first game back. On Friday night, all fans will receive a special HOME T-shirt, paid for by the Blue Jays’ bank sponsor, TD, as well as a HOME mask.
The first pitch will be thrown out by four representatives of the Blue Jays fan base, including the stalwart fan known as Home Plate Lady, a member of the East York Baseball Association, a TTC employee, and a COVID-19 survivor. National anthems will be performed by Forte aka the Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus.
Though the team won’t be playing anywhere in Canada except Toronto, the Jays are trying to whip up excitement across the country, with flag raisings celebrating their return home on Thursday in Yellowknife, Regina, at Fredericton City Hall, and at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The CN Tower, next to the Rogers Centre, will be illuminated July 29 and 30.