The Blue Jays are back and so are their fans. Since the team’s return to the Rogers Centre on July 30, fans have been taking GO Transit to get to and from the stadium. With most downtown office towers still closed, these games have provided many riders with their first train trips since the start of the global pandemic. Metrolinx News Senior Writer Mike Winterburn rode the Lakeshore East train on a recent game day, to talk to fans and soak up the atmosphere.
There is always a buzz at Union Station on game days.
Trains and buses bring a steady of fans into downtown Toronto, en route to the nearby Rogers Centre and Scotiabank Arena.
Working out of the Metrolinx News office in Union Station before COVID, I always felt the burst of energy, as Jays fans – standing out proudly in their jerseys, caps and t-shirts – excitedly exited the Lakeshore West train, while I waited for the train to continue on to Durham Region.
I always enjoyed getting a small taste of the pre-game atmosphere, even if I was a little jealous on my own trip back to the suburbs.
The game day experience is something I’ve missed while working from home. So, I took the Lakeshore East line on a recent game day, to chat with Jays fans.
“It’s great to see baseball back in our city because I think if you’re into the game you love the Jays,” said Adrian Hunt of Coburg.
This was his first GO trip in two years, and he noticed some of the 40+ safety measures Metrolinx has put in place, guided by public health officials.
“Everything is in place,” Hunt said. “They have sanitizer at every door as you come in, and dividers at our seats, so it’s very comfortable.”
Travelling by GO to the game is a return to his pre-COVID routine.
“I’ve always taken the train in; it’s much better than sitting on the Don Valley Parking Lot,” Hunt said.
He was travelling with Alicia Smith who shared his preference for the train.
“We’re not from the city itself, so it’s just easier to go by transit,” she said
The most regular customers on this train were Fatima Dostmohamed and her son Raza. This was their seventh and eighth trips of the season, respectively. With all those rides, Raza could be this year’s biggest beneficiary of the Kids GO Free program.
Raza was wearing a “Vladdy Time” t-shirt in honour of his favourite player, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and his ball glove.
“He hopes to catch the ball every time they are playing,” Fatima said. “He’s like, ‘Maybe the ball will come to me.’
“Not yet. Today hopefully. Our seats are quite close, so we’ll see.”
Game day trains are less crowded than in past seasons as provincial guidelines limit stadium attendance to 15,000, about 30 per cent of the usual 49,286-person capacity at the Rogers Centre.
With a murmur of conversations in the background, sports fans find a relaxing ride to Union Station with more enthusiasm anticipated on their return trip after a win.
“Everyone is coming in different times so you always see the fans on the way back,” said Mack Ram of Ajax.
Toronto fans don’t always make a lot of noise, but when they do, it’s memorable.
“I was in a train one time where it was all Jays fans and they were chanting, ‘Let’s go Blue Jays’ and signing,” Mack said.
His friend Sean Hassan recalled seeing the wave start on a different return trip.
“It started out at one end of the train and went down the other,” Hassan said. “It was pretty crazy to see.”
Of course, the best memories come from the Jays’ magical 2015 season.
“The playoffs were crazy and after the game the entire train would just be cheering – excited and celebrating,” said Safiya Gajiyani, who boarded at Port Union.
The Customer Service Ambassadors are happy to see the fans return and report they’ve been on their best behaviour.
“I think everyone’s been good so far,” said Staci Phillips.
She and her partner Sufyan Lokhat have been answering riders’ questions and getting their feedback.
“People are happy that 15-minute service is back,” she said.
The newly refurbished Bay Concourse opened three days before the team returned to Toronto, making it easier for fans to spread out while moving through Union Station.
The Blue Jays will host a six-game homestand this week, starting tonight (Sept. 13) with games against Tampa Bay, Monday to Wednesday, and Minnesota, Friday to Sunday. Fans looking for an easy way to get to the Rogers Centre can take GO trains and buses bound for Union Station.
Story by Mike Winterburn, Metrolinx News senior writer