From David Anthony Hohol…
It was 22 years ago when the Toronto Blue Jays last made the playoffs. My grandfather was still alive back then. We shared such a very special relationship and sports played a significant role. From boxing to hockey to baseball, the time we shared during a sporting event, in terms of the tremendous connection we cultivated together and shared with one another, would be second only to the time we spent working the farm together, side by side with our hands and our backs, under a warm prairie sun. I miss him. I’m a middle aged man now, a father; I’ve lost things, gained others, as time and it’s relentless push keeps taking me forward towards our ultimate destination. Back to Back World Series championships for the Jays in 1992 and 1993 were indeed magical years. My grandfather and I would sit on the edge of our seats and watch every pitch together. Stress together, celebrate together; and simply be together. I can still feel his excitement, hear his laughter and cheers, see his smile: they are memories that will live with me forever and I am blessed to have them.
At the time, I was completely unaware of just how cultural an event it was. I really had no idea what an enormous part sports plays in Canadian culture until I left Canada behind and began my 12 year trek of discovery. More than forty counties later and I could not find a single nation, let alone a region, in which sports played such a central figure in cultural, national, municipal and even individual identity. When newcomers arrive in Canada they are often caught off guard at how much time we spend talking about sports, how many people and their kids participate in at least one sport if not several, and how pro teams like the Flames and the Stampeders are on the front page of the newspapers and mean so much to so many people
From to learning how to play a new sport, to building new relationships at their own or their children’s sporting events, to cheering for Canada’s Olympic athletes, newcomers to Canada often talk of how their involvement in sports makes them feel very much connected to Canadian life. Sports more than just sport in Canada. They have the ability to connect people from different heritages and ethnicities, while providing a safe environment to explore different cultures.
For newcomers to Canada, playing and even watching sports with native or more established Canadians provides the chance to share and engage others about Canada, its culture and its history, helping them learn more about Canadian society and feel more at home. And when Canadians show interest in the sports newcomers most enjoy, the unifying power of sports is revealed.
And with that let us return to October 2015 and the Blue Jays, who occupy a very special position. They are the only Major League baseball team in Canada. Often when a team is successful it pulls together a community or city, as the Flames did last spring here in Calgary. The Jays are in the unique position to put millions of people on their edge of their seats from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the sleepy prairie town of Two Hills to the metropolis of Toronto, and in doing so pull together an entire nation. People from all walks of life and all ages, cheering on what is no less than Canada’s team. When the playoffs start I will look to my right and see my grandfather, think of how lucky I was to make and share such memories with him. And this time… I will also think about how lucky I am to be Canadian.