Pictou Advocate sports

Face masks, fantasy and a homeless team


The thermometer beside my desk was telling me the outdoor temperature was far too high and the indoor conditions were just as bad. The humidity, outside and inside, was beyond unbearable.

My neighbours, still scared to death because of COVID-19, were doing what they’ve been doing for over four months — staying out of sight. The most strenuous daily activity around here has been to wander down to the lobby and check the mailbox.

The only action I could see on this particular morning was outside the window in front of me — a spider feasting on his cobweb-captured bumble-bee.

And so, with my two dogs in their usual location on my bare feet, I struggled for a way to combine two subjects into one discussion. Then I decided on a plan. I’d take a third sports story and blend all three together like a salad at East Side Mario’s.

That’s the way it gets sometimes for a columnist facing the editor’s deadline.

Yes, I intertwined three distinct subjects. First, a surprise parcel that arrived in the morning mail. Second, our annual fantasy baseball draft where I annually expose my shortcomings by selecting too many Blue Jays. And finally, the Jays themselves, homeless and, like orphaned kids, looking for a ballpark to play in.

The masks are well discussed everywhere — from the Nova Scotia directives by Premier Stephen McNeil and his sidekick, Dr. Robert Strang, to the White House where one particular man refuses to wear such things.

I refer to the face masks after receiving three new ones from Marcia, an old New Glasgow schoolmate who’s lived in Rhode Island for 50 years. Marcia had them sent from the NHL office. Yes, three masks with varying sizes of the Maple Leafs crest, the symbol of my life-long love affair with Toronto’s hockey icons.

Sometimes, I’ve been hesitant to wear a mask when I’m following the green arrows through Sobeys, or the day I walked up to a teller and told her I never thought I’d see the day I’d go into a bank with my face covered. Now, though, I love to stroll through Sobeys, aisle by aisle, smiling behind the Maple Leaf.

Reactions from people close to me have varied.

My wife’s cousin Ruth, a dear friend, is always positive: “Now you won’t mind wearing a mask — and you have three to choose from.”

Joel, my friend and former newspaper colleague, joked: “Those will keep the virus away, and the Stanley Cup too.”

But, I admit, younger son Graham wins a Big Mac meal with his quip: “Leafs fans no longer need to wear paper bags.”

Shame on him.

With those views recorded, I’ll switch to my second topic.

It’s news that I’ve been able to keep my jobs — all of them. I remain owner, chief executive officer, field manager and head groundskeeper of my fantasy baseball franchise.

But I admit, I had to change my team name.

What could I really do when the Trudeau government ruled that the “real” Blue Jays — Canada’s best loved sports team — can’t play in Canada while the pandemic hangs around.

I could, should and would have gotten angry but, honestly, that wasn’t the answer. In my fantasy world, I acted swiftly. “Forever Jays” became “The Homeless Jays.”

That was less than 24 hours before our Yahoo draft was held.

Looking up from the basement position in last year’s standings, the Homeless Jays will attempt, again – for the 20th season — to climb over one or more opponents.

You always receive sound advice from other fantasy participants, particularly when it’s given in a negative tone.

Such criticism is pitched at me on an annual basis: “You pick too many Jays,” they sing like a boys choir.

I ignore them.

Our rosters have 25 players, including a chosen eight that are keepers from the previous season. My keepers going into 2020’s much-delayed draft were Blue Jays. All eight of them.

I added two more during the draft, giving me 10. Three days later, the number had climbed to a baker’s dozen. I was in true form.

How could I not grab that many while my opponents were concentrating on stars from other clubs?

I can explain.

How could I not have all three of Toronto’s young infield stars, Vlad Guerrero, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio? And, for a backup, I accept Rowdy Tellez. I then round out the inner group with catcher Danny Jansen.

I can’t have an outfield and backups without at least two or three Jays. That’s why Lourdes Gurriel, Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez enter the picture.

Promising pitching phenom Nate Pearson was a must. I got him in a pre-draft trade and made sure he was in my group of keepers. A new franchise boss this year had ownership of newcomer ace Hyun-Jin Ryu. But a day after our draft, I had added the South Korean in a trade by giving up Canadian-born New York Yankee starter James Paxton.

When I complete my puzzle together with the likes of starters Trent Thornton and Matt Shoemaker and closer Ken Giles, I was a happy fantasy owner.

Were the real Jays ready for enthusiastic supporters like myself?

In a year like 2020, nothing was really ready. The coronavirus threatened to wipe out the whole season, then settled for a four-month delay that drastically reduced 162 regular season games to just 60. An awful price to pay to chase away a pandemic.

Then came the ruling that games couldn’t be played in this country. That increased the battered Jays’ problems. While I was writing this column, the Jays were still without a home.

Can things get worse?

If the last few months are an indication, the real Jays may be heading towards a campaign like my fantasy Jays have faced every year.

My answer? Thanks, Marcia, for those Leafs masks.