WARMINGTON: Nothing like a beer, dog and vaccine at the old ball game

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Despite the strange new normal, the Blue Jays return to the Rogers Centre was a big hit with fans

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Popcorn, beer, hotdogs, ice cream and, of course, a shot of Pfizer or Moderna!

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Masks and social distancing too.

Needless to say this was a different kind of Toronto Blue Jays opener having covered about 25 of them.

But after 670 days of waiting for the Jays to finally come home, no one was complaining.

Buffalo and Florida did a great job of hosting our beloved Boys of Summer for almost two years but the Rogers Centre is home. Not just for the players but for their rabid fans too.

Superfan Eli Shupak (right) and his support pal Jaime Guzman (right) were among the lucky 15,000 fans who enjoyed the Toronto Blue Jays return to the Rogers Centre on Friday, July 31, 2021.
Superfan Eli Shupak (right) and his support pal Jaime Guzman (right) were among the lucky 15,000 fans who enjoyed the Toronto Blue Jays return to the Rogers Centre on Friday, July 31, 2021. Photo by Joe Warmington /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

No one missed them more than superfan Eli Shupak, who lives and dies with his team and goes to as many games as possible.

“It was so hard to not be able to go to the games for so long,” said Shupak, 46, who was born with a spinal condition that may limit movement of his arms and legs but not his special electric wheelchair that he gets around on.

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These games are his entertainment and his passion.

“I am so thrilled to be back,” Shupak said. “I watched every game on TV but there’s no better feeling than being at the park.”

So with his support pal Jaime Guzman he was able to secure two the 15,000 available seats in the almost 50,000 capacity dome. And the smile on his face was on full display for all to see.

Smiles may not have been as easy to see on many fans wearing the masks, but they assured me they were there.

Melissa Lantsman, a Conservative candidate for Thornhill, was among the lucky 15,000 fans who enjoyed the Toronto Blue Jays return to the Rogers Centre on Friday, July 31, 2021.
Melissa Lantsman, a Conservative candidate for Thornhill, was among the lucky 15,000 fans who enjoyed the Toronto Blue Jays return to the Rogers Centre on Friday, July 31, 2021. Photo by Joe Warmington /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

“I am just happy to be able to come out and see the Jays,” said Melissa Lantsman, a Conservative candidate for Thornhill in the next federal election. But on this night it was all about baseball.

While the crowd looked sparse on the inside of the stadium, one of the neat things about this Friday night late July home game was seeing the restaurants packed again. The St. Louis Bar and Grill’s patio was rocking and it was packed at Boston Pizza and The Wheat Sheaf too.

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These business have had a long wait for baseball again, so this was nice to see.

Ryan, a server at the Wheat Sheaf, was busy serving customers on Friday, July 31, 2021.
Customers kept Ryan, a server at the Wheat Sheaf, busy on Friday, July 31, 2021. Photo by Joe Warmington /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

As fun as a night as this was, it would not be true to say things are back to normal.

This was on full display as there was a city of Toronto worker on a bullhorn just up the stairs from the Front St. entrance to the Rogers Centre enticing people to stop into a pop-up vaccination clinic.

“We have Pfizer and Moderna and you can get your first and second shots,” he yelled over the speaker. “You can get it all done in 25 minutes.”

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He managed to convince three people on their way into the game to play ball and take advantage of the opportunity.

I teased if they handed out free tickets for the game perhaps there would be more takers. For those who didn’t have tickets, there was still a robust ticket resale street market underway with the legendary ticket brokers still working the streets.

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“But it’s not like the old days,” said one of them. “Most of the tickets are digital now and most people don’t understand or trust the technology.”

Yes, going to a baseball game has become a more complicated matter than it once was.

While we hope for day when it goes back to the way it was, we also note it’s better than having no Major League Baseball in Toronto at all.

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