Somewhere around the fifth or sixth drink, I took out my phone and began scrolling through Twitter.
It had been burning a hole in my pocket since my vacation started 48 hours earlier on a flight to YYZ, with a promise not to worry about work. It stayed tucked away from the moment I landed in the city, amidst a sweltering heat wave during the last three days of July.
Browsing through my newsfeed, something seemingly small caught my eye. Troy Tulowitzki, the best shortstop in baseball, had been pulled from the ninth inning of a game in Colorado.
A few miles away at the Rogers Building, Arash Madani saw the same tweet before leaving work that Monday night. He wondered if there was a trade brewing. The Sportsnet reporter and Truro native made his way toward the subway, to his home downtown. Just shy of the subway steps, his phone lit up.
Troy Tulowitzki had been traded… to Toronto.
Stepping onto the train, the messages went dead. The underground blocked the signals from his 27,800 followers, giving his brain some time to process the news.
“Is this the start of something big?” he thought to himself.
Madani has been with Sportsnet in Toronto since 2009. He was there for the final days of Roy Halladay, the city’s last true ace. He was there for the blockbuster trade with the Florida Marlins in 2012, bringing in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and a whole lot of hope. He was also there when the still-subpar Blue Jays swatted that hope out of the Rogers Centre like a hanging curveball.
But like the naïve parents of a delinquent child, Toronto sports fans always find a way to see grandeur over garbage.
On Tuesday night, I sat in the Rogers Centre and watched a mediocre Jays club lose to a fallible Phillies team. Tulowitzki hadn’t arrived yet, but there were 30,000 in attendance for a weeknight game. Despite the loss, there was a buzz in the air. It was something you could feel in the seats, hear in the crowd, and see in the streets. Something was happening here.
On Wednesday, Tulowitzki debuted and hit a 460-foot bomb in his second at-bat as a Jay. Meanwhile, rumours swirled of more deals. One name that continuously popped up was David Price – arguably the best pitcher in baseball.
On Thursday, it was clear the Jays were close.
“I was covering the game that day, and I remember looking at the Rogers Centre in the morning and seeing there was no white smoke coming from the dome,” Madani joked. “It hadn’t happened yet.”
Shortly after lunch, it was confirmed. In a city fueled by unfounded trade rumours and far-fetched fantasies, nobody could believe two had come true in three days.
“There’s always been a romanticism around those winning teams from 20 years ago,” Madani said. “There’s been hype before – look back to that Marlins trade three years ago – but nothing close to this.”
Friday night, while awaiting Price’s first appearance in a Jays uniform, Madani stopped talking during a live segment, turned to his colleague, Shi Davidi, and said the words everyone was thinking.
“Can you believe this?”
After the game, Madani had the first one-on-one interview with the Jays first ace pitcher since Halladay, six years ago. Price beamed with excitement, joked about Toronto having the best popcorn in the majors and made baseball fans swoon all over the nation.
When the weekend came, Madani headed off to work the Rogers Cup and the Blue Jays headed off to New York, where the excitement and success multiplied.
This week, the Jays capped off the excitement with a raucous locker room celebration after clinching the American League East pennant. The joyride is still going as the team heads to the postseason for the first time in 22 years.
No matter what happens next, it all goes back to that week in late July.
“What those trades did was at last give a losing city some hope,” Madani said. “Let’s face it, hockey has been a disaster. The Raptors, their first round loss in seven games actually felt like a huge success. But now, the city has a team with a real chance, who is serious about winning.”