Toronto fans gather to cheer on the Blue Jays in wild-card opener

TORONTO — Jersey-clad fans of all ages descended on downtown Toronto Friday afternoon to cheer on the Blue Jays in the opening game of the wild-card American League series.

Jesse Woolford, one of the lucky ticket holders at the sold-out game, said it felt good to see the playoffs return to the city for the first time since 2016 at a time when residents and local businesses need a boost.

"It's good to be back home after COVID," he said of the playoff series. "(It's) good for people's demeanour. People are happy."

Two-year-old Zach Murdoch was also among the excited fans, showing off his jersey, Blue Jays hat and keychain from on top of his father's shoulders.

Other families hurried into the stadium, grabbed hotdogs and met up with friends outside. Many were bundled up in jackets and hats on the chilly October day.

Monique Murray said she doesn't follow baseball closely but was excited to come watch the playoffs with her boyfriend and friend, and be part of the community experience as the city came alive to support the team.

"I grew up watching the Blue Jays with my dad, so I love coming," she said from outside the stadium. "I ran into so many friends with their parents here, which is actually really nice."

The game against the Seattle Mariners kicked off late Friday afternoon after Toronto secured the top wild-card seed this week, landing home-field advantage for the best-of-three series.

The winner will move on to the American League Division Series in Houston next week.

Before the game, Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette commented on the palpable excitement in the city around the series.

"I think the (fans have) been watching us grow up for a few years now waiting for us to get to this moment, so now we're here," he said.

Blue Jays manager John Schneider said the team loves playing in Toronto and drawing on support from fans across the country.

"I know that hockey runs deep here in Canada and hopefully the Jays can kind of flip the switch and hold off that hockey season for a little bit," he said. "We're excited to be here in front of our fans."

Some people gathered in other Canadian cities to watch the game unfold. Self-described "diehard" Blue Jays fan Katelyn Smith was among the roughly 10 baseball fans at Boston Pizza outside BC Place in Vancouver at the start of the game.

There was one Seattle Mariners jersey among the small group. Vancouverite Gary Borne, a Seattle fan for most of his life, said he doesn't mind being a minority among Jays fans, even after he was playfully booed when he entered the bar.

"The nice thing about Blue Jays fans is they are always respectful," he said with a grin.

Back in Toronto, fans without stadium tickets had their eyes glued to television screens a few steps away at The Pint pub, occasionally bursting into applause and cheers.

Australian Emily Bills was in town visiting her friend Jenna McCrae, who recently moved to Canada. The pair said they decided to head to the downtown bar to be part of the atmosphere during the game.

McCrae said she attended a few games over the summer in-person since relocating to the city.

"This is the first year I've actually seen a baseball game, so now I'm a Blue Jays fan," she said.

At a nearby table, Jacob Dilks said over a plate of nachos that he chose the pub strategically to be as close as possible to the energy at the Rogers Centre.

"This is why you live in Toronto, is for moments like this, when you get playoffs in the city," he said. "To know that it's happening across the street is something you can't get anywhere else.'

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

- With files from Gregory Strong in Toronto and Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press