By Gerry Chidiac
The Toronto Blue Jays are often referred to as Canada’s team because they are the only Major League Baseball (MLB) organization in the country. This season they are playing the most exciting baseball we’ve seen in years, and even though their ranks are not made up of many Canadian players, they certainly look a lot like Canada.
There are as many languages spoken in the Blue Jays dugout as there are in Toronto’s famous Kensington Market. While such differences can result in communication barriers and misunderstandings in some organizations, here they are celebrated.
Nothing exemplifies the Blue Jays’ esprit de corps more than the team’s homerun blazer.
Other MLB teams have ways to celebrate when a teammate hits a homerun, but Toronto’s signature home run celebration is unique. The Blue Jay homerun jacket has the name of every country represented in the Blue Jays dugout written on it, along with the words, “LA GENTE DEL BARRIO,” the people of the neighborhood, in Spanish.
While the Blue Jays may or may not make it to the post-season this year, one thing is certain: This is a fun team to watch. The players clearly love the game of baseball and appreciate how fortunate they are to be able to make a living doing something they enjoy. They also hit a lot of homeruns, and the homerun jacket brings everyone together whenever anyone hits one out of the park. The jacket is even placed over the shoulders of pitchers when they have a great game.
The Blue Jays’ homerun jacket also says a great deal about how baseball has changed through the years, and perhaps even something about Canada in the 21st century.
Baseball used to be known as America’s pastime. While the majority of players in Major League Baseball are still from the United States, over one quarter of them are now Latin American. This statistic becomes even more striking if we look at the number of players in the big leagues relative to their countries’ populations. There are only three American players per every million people in the United States and just 0.5 Canadians per million people in Canada. However, there are 13 Dominicans and 10 Puerto Ricans playing Major League Baseball for every million people in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico respectively. Many MLB teams also have players from various Asian countries on their rosters. The Blue Jays even have a player of Brazilian descent. Bo Bichette’s mother Mariana is a native of Brazil. Bichette is the son of former Major Leaguer Dante Bichette. He played for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic.
In reality, Canada is not a lot different from Major League Baseball. English and French may be the official languages of the country, but Canadians today come from all over the world, and we are also seeing a resurgence of Indigenous languages. According to the 2016 census, more than one language is spoken in nearly 20% of Canadian homes. This statistic is trending upward, with the number of people reporting an immigrant mother tongue increasing by over 13% between 2011 and 2016.
While some may feel that English Canadian culture is being threatened by multilingualism, the truth is that in most of the world it is very unusual for individuals, especially those who consider themselves educated, to speak only one language.
Baseball, just like Canada, has a way of bringing diverse groups of people together, and every language that is spoken can be a celebration of this diversity. As it is with the Blue Jays.
Maybe it’s finally time for the anglophones of the world to join in the fun of multilingualism with the rest of “la gente del barrio.”
Gerry Chidiac is a Canadian educator and a columnist for Troy Media.
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