DUNEDIN, FLA. — From cap to t-shirt, tote bag to earrings, Toronto Blue Jays logos adorned Marilyn Ryerse’s outfit.
Ryerse was one of thousands of fans who streamed into the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on a sunny Tuesday afternoon to watch the Jays take on Team Canada in spring training action. But on this day, the most powerful stories had nothing to do with the boxscore.
The precise double plays and towering home runs leave fans awestruck, but the power of baseball extends far beyond the diamond. From Canmore, Alta., to Moose Jaw, Sask., to Sherbrooke, Que., and Summerside, P.E.I., shared love of baseball brought Canadians from across the country to the stadium on this day, but the sport has also brought together countless couples and families over the years.
For Ryerse, her love for the Blue Jays took her all the way to the front page of the Toronto Star as the winner of a “Biggest Blue Jays Fan” contest, but it also led her to a new love — her husband of four months now, Robin Ryerse.
The Blue Jays had always been a big part of their lives, and played a big role in helping to spark the Oakville, Ont., native’s relationship.
“We’ve been Blue Jays fans since forever, since ’76,” said Rverse. “They’ve been a wonderful escape for me. I was a chaplain in a jail for 14 years, so that’s pretty serious, heavy duty stuff. It was lovely to just turn on the TV and watch the game.
“We’ve only known each other for two years, but it was a big part of it because I’m such a big fan and he’s also a big fan.”
Both Marilyn and Robin had previously been to Blue Jays spring training but separately, as part of existing traditions with family and friends. As they embark on their first trip to Dunedin as a married couple, it marks a new beginning and an opportunity for new traditions.
“We’d like to make it a tradition,” she said laughing. “It’s hard to think of tradition when you’ve only been married for four months. It’s hard to say, but it’s something we really enjoy.”
For the Gilliam family – Jeff, Charlie, Holly, Thomas, Paul and Elaine of Port Perry, Ont., – spring training is a time to take in a ballgame, but more importantly, a fleeting but precious chance for the whole family to be in one place at the same time.
“It’s great every year to watch the Blue Jays, and we just love to get away from the snow,” said grandfather Paul Gilliam.
Grandparents Paul and Elaine are snowbirds who live in Sebring, Fla. While the move south of the border has brought more sunshine to their lives, it also meant being away from their children and grandchildren.
“I’m really excited to see the Jays and my grandparents,” said Charlie, who named Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista as his favourite players.
And for Kim Askin from Uxbridge, Ont., it’s all about family.
“Watching the grandchildren’s faces,” she answered without hesitation when asked what her favourite part of spring training is. “Seeing them get all the autographs and being so close to the players, it’s unbelievable.”
Transcending slash lines and fielding percentages, a love for baseball weaves its way through conversations and connections, lighting an improbable spark of love here and precipitating a rare family reunion there.
For the countless Jays fans who find themselves in the same place every year, whether honouring cherished traditions or beginning fresh new ones, it’s the love of the game that unites them all.