The Toronto Blue Jays 2018 home opener is now underway at the Rogers Centre, they take on the New York Yankees in a four-game series.
The team honoured late pitcher Roy Halladay during a pre-game tribute at the Roger’s Centre. Halladay’s wife, Brandy, and sons, Braden and Ryan, stood on the infield as the his number, 32, was hoisted into the rafters. Halladay is the second Blue Jay in franchise history to have his number retired, alongside Roberto Alomar.
There are two very noticeable absentees at the game this afternoon, one on the field and the other up in the broadcast booth.
For the first time since 2009, the Blue Jays will open a season without Jose Bautista as a member of the team.
“It’s a new look for fans definitely, because they’re used to him being that face of the franchise,” said Keegan Matheson, the editor in chief of Baseball Toronto, a subscription website that covers the Blue Jays.
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Bautista certainly gave fans plenty to cheer about in a decade with the team.
“From when Jose Bautista arrived until now, the Blue Jays have become cool again,” Matheson said.
Jose Bautista acknowledges the Rogers Centre crowd during his final home game as a Blue Jay on Sept. 24. (Jon Blacker/Canadian Press)
He became a premier slugger in the major leagues, belting out 288 home runs in a Blue Jays uniform, including a 54 in the 2010 season.
Matheson said Bautista had the kind of power that made the rest of the league take notice.
“For a while, Jose Bautista was the guy in baseball, he was the power threat and he belonged to Toronto.”
Of course there is one home run he will always be remembered for.
“His bat flip is iconic, it’s absolutely iconic, it was wonderful,” said Jays fan Ray Payette, referring to Bautista’s home run in game five of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers.
It was a three-run blast that won the series for the Jays, and Bautista put an exclamation point on it by flipping his bat high into the air.
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That was just one example of Bautista showing some attitude on the field. He played the game with a chip on his shoulder, and while it’s not exactly the Canadian way, fans loved him for it.
Payette said he gave the team an identity that won’t easily be replaced this season.
“I think it will be a different identity,” Payette said. “Clearly the team doesn’t have the attitude that he brought.”
Broadcaster ‘will be missed’
There will be a changing of the guard in the broadcast booth for the Blue Jays, as well.
Jerry Howarth not only called many of Bautista’s big moments, he called some of the greatest moments in the history of the franchise.
Fans won’t hear longtime Blue Jays radio voice Jerry Howarth this season. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
Howarth announced his retirement in the off-season after 36 years behind the microphone for the Blue Jays.
“It’s going to be a different experience altogether, he will be missed,” said Jays fan Jared Coffell, who grew up listening to Howarth call games.
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Ben Wagner will be in the radio booth Thursday, replacing Howarth as the newest voice of the Blue Jays. Wagner spent the past 11 seasons as the play by play announcer for the Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons.