Blue Jays rediscovering normalcy one month after return to Toronto

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TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 26: Randal Grichuk #15, Teoscar Hernandez #37, and Bo Bichette #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays take the field under the CN Tower before playing the Chicago White Sox in their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on August 26, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 26: Randal Grichuk #15, Teoscar Hernandez #37, and Bo Bichette #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays take the field under the CN Tower before playing the Chicago White Sox in their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on August 26, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

TORONTO — "We know where we're going to end the year," shortstop Bo Bichette said with a chuckle from the Toronto Blue Jays dugout at Rogers Centre.

A month after finally unpacking their suitcases and settling in at home, the Blue Jays have managed to erase one big uncertainty in a season filled with them. Since July 30, players, coaches and staff have had a chance to lay some roots after two years away from Canada.

Staying still has brought some much-needed peace.

"All year long, there was that uncertainty of when we would get here," Bichette said on Tuesday before the second of three home games against the Baltimore Orioles. "Our mind was always a little bit somewhere else. So, it's nice to just be here."

Just being here has been anything but simple for this team.

The Blue Jays' journey started back in March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic and Canada's border policies forced the club to move its home games to Buffalo, N.Y. A two-month stint in Dunedin, Fla., to start the 2021 season was followed by another couple of months in Buffalo.

In addition to vying for a postseason berth and staying healthy amid a deadly pandemic, the Blue Jays faced the realities of a nomadic life — living out of hotels and never getting too comfortable in one place.

"The logistics of living were tough," said Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk. "But here it's nice. It feels like home."

Now a little over four weeks removed from a two-year road trip, the team can at last say that the dust has settled. Health Canada gave the Blue Jays a two weeks' notice when announcing that they could return on July 30. Excited chaos ensued, as the club mobilized to pack up an entire major-league team and ship it to another country.

The Blue Jays set players up with hotel rooms in the city during the first homestand. But after that, athletes were on their own to find permanent homes. Some were able to sign deals a few days before arriving, while others ran into some issues.

Some, like Bichette, had some welcome help.

"Moving three times isn't easy," said Bichette. "I'm lucky enough that my family helped me. When I got here, I was pretty much settled in. I can't say that for all of my teammates."

Blue Jays players hail from all over, from the Dominican to South Korea. Most of the current roster is living a first experience playing at Rogers Centre.

Amid the plurality of culture and backgrounds, there was an immediate sense of familiarity and comfort in the ballpark.

"Just being able to get back to our locker room, back to our home turf, in front of our fans ... you can't put an amount on how much that's worth," said Grichuk.

Despite the off-field mayhem, the team settled in right away within the diamond.

"We love playing here, and the record says so," said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. "We missed it."

Toronto went on a 9-2 run when first returning to Canada, playing in front of a maximum of 15,000 fans every night, though at times they questioned the reality of those numbers.

"The 15,000 have made it feel like it's been full," said Grichuk. "We feed off of that."

The home record has evened out after that stellar run, but Blue Jays players are still savouring the beauty of normalcy in their day-to-day life.

Grichuk, for example, rediscovered his love for grocery shopping and eating a nice home-cooked meal after he and his wife, Victoria, got a condo in the city shortly after landing back.

"It was nice to be able to come back and just have a normal life — what I've been used to living here in the past."

But the homecoming thrill could only take them so far.

Toronto's latest home game ended in heartbreaking fashion, with a loss to the Orioles on Tuesday as the crowd showered Vlad Guerrero Jr. with chants of "MVP!" The team still sits 4.5 games out of a playoff spot in the American League, and home-field advantage may not be enough to carry them through this final month.

"However we've played is how we've played," said Bichette. "But in the locker room, I think that whatever happens, we can be proud of what we've accomplished — fighting through a lot of adversity, a lot of moments when we could have cashed it in, or felt sorry for ourselves. And we haven't done that. We fought every step of the way and I think that's something to be proud of."

Following the Baltimore series, the Blue Jays will stay put for a home set against the Oakland A's, who are also vying for a wild-card spot in the AL.

"(Playing at home) is only going to help us," said Bichette. "But at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. We have to go out there and play well."

There's a lot of ground to cover. By this point, the Blue Jays are used to it.

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