We now find ourselves almost a month into the offseason. The mood is dim. The skies are rainy. Worst of all, the Jays have given us little concrete to work with by way of offseason plans or substantiated trade rumors, and as a result, those among us who are responsible for creating Jays-related content are left scrambling for topical tidbits to write about. This has given everyone the distinct pleasure of reading six different articles on six different blogs about the same maybe-it-is-maybe-it-isn’t rumor every week.
I, for my part, have found myself particularly susceptible to that sweet, sweet offseason malaise this year. The absence of baseball’s regulatory presence has rendered my existence a minor shambles, and I have been searching for something—anything—to make me forget the baseball-shaped hole in my heart. And while the echo chamber of Shohei Ohtani speculation posts and front-office hot takes doesn’t seem to be capable of giving my life renewed meaning and purpose, nor would I be particularly good at writing about such things, I realized recently that there is at least one thing in this universe that will always give me a reprieve from the void, if only for a moment:
That’s right. In the chill of winter, I have found that there is no more soothing balm for the soul of the baseball-bereft than hunting down weird Blue Jays shit on Ebay which, should you so choose, you could easily acquire in exchange for a sum of your hard-earned money. And while there are hundreds of thousands of possible purchases to choose from, there are certain types of objects which I have found inspire more desire and fill the emptiness better than others.
Unspeakably, Unironically Ugly World Series Merchandise
I don’t know much about what life in the early 90s was like, but based on the graphics on the vintage World Series garments that people are selling online, I can only imagine that it was a hell of a lot better than life is now. All of these garments exude a carefree yet passionate joie de vivre that I, drowning in my 21st-century dullness and cynicism, can only dream of.
The one uniting feature of all of these fabric miracles is a flagrant disdain for any principles of graphic design. Various shapes and logos and texts and symbols are thrown on seemingly at random, with no discernible schema or relationship to each other. The text on these shirts, too, is often mystifying. I have no idea why the shirt pictured below feels the need to include a paragraph explaining the history of the Blue Jays and their cap design, nor why the sweater above included a box listing the previous 10 World Series champions under the heading of “WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS – 10 YEARS STATS.”
One gets the impression that whoever designed these shirts was — like a kid affixing all of their favorite stickers to a single sheet of paper— just really, really excited about the Blue Jays. And for just a taste of that sincere and unabashed zest for life, $99.99 seems like a small price to pay.
Disturbing Humanoid Merchandise
A new friend invites you over to their place to hang out and have drinks for the first time. You feel like you know this person fairly well: you’ve been talking for a while, you vibe with their sense of humor, and you have various mutual interests—the most significant of which is, of course, Blue Jays baseball. It’s the offseason right now, but you’re looking forward to catching a game with them once baseball starts again. And as you make your way to their place of residence, you begin wonder about the “rare Jays memorabilia” they have often boasted to you about having. An autographed bat? A ball from a historic game? The possibilities are endless.
You ring the doorbell. Your friend opens the door, and you greet each other warmly. When they close the door your heart almost stops in fright— there’s someone standing in the doorway behind you!
“What?” Your friend looks concerned for a moment, then they laugh. “Oh! That’s just—Don’t worry about that. It’s just Carlos.”
You can’t manage any response, but really, what is there to say? It’s just Carlos. A life-size cardboard cutout of a one-time Blue Jays star, smiling a wide two-dimensional smile and holding a Coke, staring at you blankly from the back of your friend’s door. There is nothing weird about this. There is nothing sinister occurring here whatsoever.
It’s just Carlos.
You try to shake your feeling of unease, and follow your friend down the hallway towards the kitchen, where they tell you they have snacks and drinks waiting. You are looking forward to this— you are starving, and you would love a drink to take the edge off your encounter with Carlos. Your friend disappears around a corner, and as you make the turn, you almost trip on something soft on the ground. You pick it up.
You drop it. You wish you could run to the bathroom and wash the feel of it out of your fingers.
Your friend is busy at the kitchen counter, pouring out bowls of different dips and slicing cheeses. They don’t look up. “Yeah, what?”
You point at the doll. “What… what is this?”
They glance down briefly, then return to their task. “That’s just Josh, dude! Man, you really don’t know your Jays.”
You stare at the doll in disbelief. It stares back at you, tired eyes unmoving, beard no closer to being a shade that even vaguely resembles blond.
“Josh who?” you ask nervously. Perhaps your friend didn’t mean who you thought they meant. “Josh, like… Donaldson?”
“That looks nothing like Josh Donaldson.”
Your friend sighs. “It has #20 on the back. The box said Josh Donaldson. It’s Josh Donaldson. End of discussion. Now get over here and dig into these snacks.”
You walk over to the kitchen table, carefully sidestepping “Josh,” though you can’t help but feel his hollow gaze burning into the back of your neck. Your friend is beaming, as though they are proud of the spread that they’ve created, and as you take a seat you are inclined to agree with them. Everything looks mouth-watering, and your stomach grumbles with anticipation. But before you can take a bite of any charcuterie or smoked gouda, you catch a glimpse of an ominous, spindly shape, looming over you from the top of the refrigerator. You think you see the gleam of a pair of eyes.
Your friend sees your horrified expression and sighs again. “Come on, man. What is it this time?”
You point at the shadow. Your friend grins.
“Oh, right! I gotta get him out here. It’s not fair to leave him up there in the dark.”
“Hold on.” Your friend, with some effort, reaches to the top of the refrigerator and, with a flourish, sets him on the chair beside you. Like he is just another guest at the table. Like he is going to be your friend, too.
You’ve lost your appetite.
“I – I have to go. I, uh. I feel really sick.” You stand up and try to move as swiftly as you can toward the exit. Your friend blocks the hallway.
“Wait, what?” They sound hurt. “But you haven’t even had any food! We haven’t even—”
“Seriously,” you say, desperation in your voice. “Seriously, I’m sorry, thanks for your hospitality, but I’m going to vomit if I stay here any longer.”
Your friend, though sad, seems convinced. “That sucks, dude! We’ll have to do this again some other time.”
“Yeah, yeah, totally,” you say, your heart pounding. “Can you please let me go now?”
“Alright, fine,” they say. “But before you go—”
This is too much. You start trying to shove past them. “Please, let me—”
Your friend presses something cold and foreign into your hand. “I wanted you to have this.”
You run as fast as you can, out the door, down the street, until your lungs are sore and your heart feels like it could break through your ribcage. You keep running, and running, and running.
It is not until you get home, slamming the door behind you, that you realize you are still holding the Carlos Delgaduck. You try to let go of it, but you can’t.
You collapse to the floor and cry.
Pieces of Paper
There is something melancholy to me about people selling their old ticket stubs online. I understand why people sell off their old sentimental objects—objects take up space, and people are always finding themselves in need of more space. But a piece of paper is one of the more unobtrusive ways to store a physical memory. A piece of paper can be easily slipped between the pages a book, tucked into a shoebox. It is a distinct pleasure to open a book and find some long-forgotten ticket, or photograph, or note from an old friend.
So when I see people trying to flip their old tickets and vintage scoresheets online, I am struck by a whole mess of sad surmises. I wonder if this person has fallen upon such hard times that they are trying to earn money whatever way they can, even whatever small amount might be gotten by selling a ticket stub. I wonder if, perhaps, this piece of paper never really belonged to them—if they merely stumbled across it by accident, and decided to employ the serendipity in the service of their bank account, leaving the paper’s original owner bereft.
Or perhaps they just decided that this baseball game hadn’t actually meant that much to them after all. At one point they cared enough to attend to this game, and not only to attend the game, but to save the ticket stub which they could easily have tossed aside. They cared enough to save it, and they cared enough to keep it in good condition for several decades.
But something changed, somewhere along the line. They looked at this ticket stub and it didn’t inspire the happiness it once did. The ticket—and the memories of their own life that it had been kept to preserve—had lost their meaning. The 1994 season was shortened by the strike, and the Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs for over two decades after that. Life went on. Baseball was temporary.
It is not in the actual buying of these Blue Jays things that I have recently taken so much solace. In all the time I’ve spent browsing Ebay this fall, I haven’t actually bought anything. It’s the observation of them. Scrolling through the approximately 19,000 artifacts of fandom that people are trying to flip on Ebay is a strange, profound experience, something like visiting a museum full 0f heretofore undiscovered ancient relics — if, for each one of these relics, the museum featured two hundred BRAND NEW!!! RUSSELL MARTIN REPLICA JERSEYS.
But it is nevertheless an addictive process, and I think this is why. When one does stumble across these artifacts, though they be few and far between, there is a fleeting, small recreation of the sensations one experiences when watching baseball. It’s the moment during which you forget that the object you are observing was meant to exploit you, was placed in front of you to tempt you to hand over your money. There is a moment where, for a fraction of a second, before you look at the price, the auction, the search-optimized all-caps titling, the description full of glowing yet cliche keywords which cannot possibly be true, before you remember that Statcast is powered by Amazon Web Services and the ball is juiced, your heart clenches with some rich emotion—sometimes joy, sometimes melancholy, sometimes confusion, sometimes abject horror. You forget that something is being sold to you.
And after a few seconds, the moment is gone. It never, ever lasts. But the longing remains. That’s how they get you. That’s how they keep roping you in, time after time, year after year. You yourself don’t quite know how it keeps happening; after all this time, you should know better. Yet you keep coming back. You just keep chasing that feeling— that moment where you believe that if only you could have this thing you would be whole.
Pitchers and catchers report in 75 days. Maybe we’ll get what we wanted this time.