Blue Jays break out revamped park with bright outing from core players

April 9th, 2024

TORONTO -- Any renovation needs good bones.

Without a strong foundation, a sturdy frame and a floor plan that flows, all of the aesthetic upgrades won’t matter much.

When the Blue Jays brought back a near-identical roster for 2024, they bet on their bones. Sure, they swapped out some wooden door knobs for brass handles and brightened up the old cream-colored walls with a more vibrant, eggshell white, but the shape is still the same.

Monday’s 5-2 win over the Mariners in the Blue Jays’ home opener was another glimpse of what this team can look like when it all goes right. We’ve been limited to that over the past few seasons -- glimpses and teases -- but wins like this are why you keep coming back, even after a frustrating start that’s felt like an extension of 2023.

“I just can’t overstate how nice it is to be home and play in front of our fans,” said manager John Schneider, down the hall from the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, where pulsing bass threatened to rattle the new decals off the walls.

This organization just spent two years and nearly $400 million to renovate Rogers Centre. The plastic seats that 52,195 fans sat in on the night Joe Carter touched 'em all? They’re gone now. The left-field bleachers that shook as Jose Bautista stood and stared and launched his bat into the air? They sit atop a higher wall now, one which bends in different places. It’s time for the Blue Jays’ core to produce some moments that will burn themselves into these new seats, these new walls.

It’s still It’s still .

Each shook off their slow starts Monday, working in tandem as much as two hitters can. After a Guerrero single in the third, Bichette shot a double into the right-center gap and they were off. As Bichette’s helmet spilled off behind him, he slid into second base just a few feet from another helmet, which Vladdy had long since abandoned on his run. Bichette turned to the dugout and offered his own, subtle version of the dance you’re seeing from his teammates after a big hit. He was glowing, the bright smile of the serious friend who finally cracks up at the joke.

When Davis Schneider finally broke this game open with a bases-loaded single, Guerrero scored quickly from third and turned to guide Bichette. It was an awkward, high throw that caught Bichette between sliding and running through the base, so Guerrero acted as the safety net. If this stadium is ever going to be the stage for another all-time moment, these two will need to be at the center of it. It’s been the same sentiment for years, too often ending in disappointment, but they’re the bones.

“A lot of people were saying the season was over after 10 games, which is funny, because we play 162,” said Davis Schneider. “We have a really good ball club. We won four games [on the road] and we didn’t really hit that well, which is a testament to our pitching and testament to how good of a staff we have. Today, we showed differently. I feel like this is the team we can have every single night.”

A huge part of that is José Berríos.

What a performance by the Opening Day starter, who circled back around to be the opening act at home, too. Berríos gave the Blue Jays 6 2/3 scoreless innings on 101 pitches to drag his early ERA down to 1.45. There may have been something cathartic in the boos that rained down as John Schneider walked out to lift Berríos -- cleansing what’s left over from how 2023 ended, perhaps -- but the roar of the crowd as Berríos walked back towards the dugout was well earned.

“I was trying to be respectful, but when I go out there, I have to be a bad dog,” Berríos said. “That’s what I had on my mind. Obviously, I have to enjoy the game, respect my team and respect the other guy, but I want to have that on my mind. I want to give my 100% every pitch.”

So much can change between now and October, but this is the best Berríos has looked with this organization. If another one of these big moments comes around, offering the Blue Jays another opportunity to break through after three postseason thuds in the last four seasons, Berríos will get that call.

The stage is set, shiny and new. The bones were always there, but the finishing touches are the hardest part.