Giving Thanks, Eddie Van Halen & The 2020 Toronto Blue Jays
Confused with that title yet? Good….cause in a little while it’ll all make sense. Remember, its all connected…as the latter two examples are lessons that we can all learn from in this tumultuous year. With what is being touted as a possible ‘second wave’ in my area and the recent death of the guitar-guru to end all gurus Edward Van Halen many have been pushed to the brink with the chaos and misfortune the year 2020 has brought them. With that being said I feel it is still important to celebrate this holiday and mindfully give thanks for what you DO have. A celebration of Eddie’s legacy and the spirit of this year’s Toronto Blue Jays squad may give you some helpful hints if you’re struggling to march out of the wilderness of the doom and gloom. Before I unwrap the gift of those examples I would like to briefly speak for myself. In this week’s edition of Unexplained Inc. I tell a quick story about how I almost pulled the plug on the entire project because it was set to launch on March 20, the first day of spring. There wasn’t exactly a celebratory vibe in the air of the new season and the launch of a new podcast that frankly nobody knew about. I began to have these absurd thoughts that I would put my own blood, sweat and tears into this project and literally nobody would tune in to listen. They would be too busy trying to get their lives back in order due to the new found lockdown. Of course like anybody who wants to share their art with the world I realized that these thoughts were likely nonsense. About two to three weeks into the show I actually gained a few listeners and received positive feedback. If I had reached at least one person than this project was going to be well worth it. Fast forward ahead approximately thirty weeks and I am in awe with the amount of connections and good fortune that have come my way in the meantime. The milestone of 2000 total downloads is not all that far off from this moment. There was no magic formula for this as all I had to do was change the initial nature of my thoughts and realize that as crazy as things were back in March they could have been a lot worse.
I have to admit that despite this story coming back into modern-day consciousness I really don’t know a whole lot about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919. What I do know was that the Stanley Cup Finals got cancelled for the only time that century because of it. I also know that the mortality rate was a lot higher than what we are seeing now, they couldn’t even risk slowly reopening their amenities for a longer period of time. Those who survived that horrible time had some fun in the brief bounce-back period known as the Roaring 20’s. This was to celebrate surviving the pandemic and the ending of WWI only to be followed by The Great Depression and WWII. Yes, 2020 has been challenging, inconvenient and at times disheartening. But I am still thankful to be in this year because of what I am still able to do during this pandemic. I was able to work, cover expenses, put food on the table, communicate with technology that didn’t exist way back when, and when the conditions allowed enjoyed the outdoors as much as I could. Imagine coming out of this where the market would crash to the point of starvation, all of our modern technology is gone and you have the possibility of being enlisted to go overseas to fight a war against the greatest axis of evil ever seen in your lifetime. After putting things in that kind of perspective maybe 2020 hasn’t been nearly as bad as all the newscasts and memes have been trying to tell us. While the untimely demise of Eddie Van Halen shook the entire entertainment industry and millions of fans worldwide I didn’t let this unfortunate event bring me into a vibration of anger. Melancholy and disappointment were more accurate but I wouldn’t allow it bring me into the 2020 ‘sucks’ mentality….here are two main reasons:
I follow music news pretty closely…especially in the rock world. A couple of years back rumours surrounding a new Van Halen tour got scrapped and their press people went eerily silent. With Eddie’s health issues in the past I knew something was up and that it unfortunately may only be a matter of time before it ended…
Outside of the musical virtuosity the main objective of Van Halen as a band was to celebrate the good times and don’t take life super seriously. While a legend is gone I can still celebrate what his band and music represented. In fact sales and streams of what Van Halen would do in a typical week shot up an estimated 6000% these past eight days, so I guess more people are doing the same.
What amazed me the most was to see others in Eddie’s band giving thanks and showing gratitude for his contributions to the world of music. I don’t want to besmirch the man’s name right now but due to egotism, alcoholism and being a painstaking perfectionist my perception as a fan is that Eddie was a difficult person to get along with at times and alienated many in the process. In fact a close confidant I know that’s had a long career in the music industry famously labelled Van Halen as the ‘worst’ band they’ve ever worked with due to those aforementioned reasons. Put all that aside and I was able to see online, the raw emotion and immaculate gratitude expressed by his brother Alex (one of the greatest rock drummers ever, who had to live in Eddie’s shadow), Diamond Dave and the touring tandem of Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar who both publicly took shots in the past but put their differences aside to give thanks. I feel that forgiveness is a form of gratitude and while these relationships all had their share of complications they all took the high road and realized that they were privileged to perform in the presence of true musical greatness. Out of all the aforementioned Anthony should harbour the most resentment as he got fired for touring with Hagar’s solo band while Van Halen was on hiatus and would be replaced by Eddie’s son Wolfgang. In his own right Wolfgang had the musical virtuoso bug that was synonymous with the Van Halen name. I saw this first hand in my only viewing of the band in August 2015. In 2012 the band reunited with David Lee Roth and put out A Different Kind Of Truth which I think is a spectacular return-to-form album. They came to Canada and I missed them and thought that was my only chance. Three years later I am on the site of Ticketmaster with the countdown on and I have a really expensive seat about seven rows back from the stage sitting on my screen. That price was something else but I clicked anyway and went to the show. The show itself had some warts and was not a flawless performance but it was really so much fun that I didn’t care. On the train ride afterwards though many were complaining because of it and thought they would see a performance similar to the band’s peak in the early 80’s. A part of me agreed with their complaints but I was just nitpicking. I was just happy to have the chance to be there and getting that close to the action….the way things played out in the long run, it WAS my only chance and I am grateful I got to see the show….even if the performance was far from perfect. Another aspect of 2020 that was far form perfect was the return of Major League Baseball. The rare times I do park myself in front of the television I am usually watching the spontaneous world of live sports. I find it as a nice way to focus and unwind at times and I happen to have a long lasting love affair with the game of baseball, to the chagrin of some in my inner circle. One of the great memories of my young life was being in attendance for Joe Carter’s World Series winning home-run in 1993. 1994 was a different story however as a season that was on pace to break a number of the game’s records was halted in late August due to a player’s strike that wiped out the season. When play resumed a lot of fans left for good and some markets didn’t immediately recover, Toronto being one of them. For the next two decades it was a rough ride being a Blue Jays fan. The games were sparsely attended, the overall quality of the Skydome wasn’t what it used to be and the worst part being is that they put together some teams that were ‘good’ but not ‘good enough’ to make the playoffs. They signed some ailing veterans that turned their careers around and grew some amazing hometown prospects (one landed in the Hall of Fame…the late Roy Halladay). The problem is that with a combination of continuous losing seasons and a shrinking payroll all of these homegrown superstars would land in New York, California, Boston or any other team that had a chance of being a ‘contender’ and likely less taxation than playing in Canada. It truly seemed like it was never going to end. In 2009 a Montreal native named Alex Anthopoulos became the General Manager. Over the next few years he would make significant trades and signings that would turn the teams fortunes around. Early on this approach blew up in their face but in 2015 after the team got on a mid-summer roll he brought in some stars from other teams which had previously seemed impossible. That year and 2016 he went ‘all-in’ to build teams ready to win now and even though they came up short in the playoffs, those teams brought back a buzz to Toronto baseball that had been long gone. Then it all fell apart again and for the next three years produced the same old story. Alex would leave for another team in 2017 and the replacements (from the front office of the rival Cleveland Indians…who bounced Toronto from the 2016 playoffs) known as Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro would dismantle that contending roster piece by piece and alienate a lot of fans in the process. However patience ruled the day and after a disastrous start to the 2019 season the team boldly called up their young prospects from the minors prematurely. This ended up being a great move as this team started to grow and gel together and some of these players were the sons of other Hall of Famers eager to start their career. Despite the massive losing record this team became fun to follow again because of the energy and potential they now had on the roster. Now, if you are bored to tears by all of this trivia have no fear and thank you for the patience. I had to set the table for why this team taught every one who followed it a valuable lesson in gratitude in 2020.
To finish setting the table Major League Baseball was the first major sport to launch within the pandemic infected North America and the last to even remotely have it’s act together. The league and the players union got into a lengthy and embarrassing public squabble to the point where the season was threatening cancellation for the year. Once that dumpster fire got put out teams practiced in their spring training facilities which happened to be in the states that got hit hardest by COVID in mid-summer, Florida and Arizona. Then early in the season some teams had positive tests and even small outbreaks that caused postponements and a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. While the whole league was in a state of disarray nobody had it worse than the Toronto Blue Jays.
After positive tests in their Florida facility the Jays moved up to a bubble in Toronto to finish their training before the 60 game season started. The city of Toronto said they could play their home games there, the Ontario government agreed, but the federal government said no. There would be no summer baseball played in Toronto in 2020….so where would they go exactly? Rumours circulated that Baltimore and Pittsburgh would be willing to share their stadiums in the shortened season. Both municipal governments said no because of the cross border travel….so the Jays started their season on the road and didn’t have a home ball-park….yes in the midst of this chaos they didn’t know where their home base was going to be. Finally they were awarded a home base in Buffalo which was the home of their minor league affiliate. I’ve witnessed games there and for the minors is a nice ballpark however amenities like the stadium lighting were not up to Major League standards so the Jays would start on the road for almost a month before having a ballpark they could call home. You can argue that these are high-paid spoiled athletes playing a game, however I can’t imagine dealing with that much uncertainty and potential danger surrounding my job. At least when I go to work on a daily basis I know where the building is and trust it won’t be moved from one week to the next. This was clearly affecting the mental well being of the team as early in the season they made some terrible mistakes on the field. Some would literally cost them wins, however one could see that they had a fighting spirit. The silver lining of all this was that they bonded together as a team with their backs against the wall. Once they started putting some wins together they had a ridiculous rash of injuries. This was going on around the league because players’ conditioning was all out of sorts. But the Jays may have had more injuries to starting players than any other team in the league…and yet an amazing thing happened… They started winning, a lot. The wins did not come easy either and they had quite a few comeback victories. Major League Baseball changed some rules this season and expanded the playoff format. Even with that change and a shorted season the Jays found themselves in contention of a playoff spot. After being humiliated by their division rival New York Yankees in mid September (I think they illegally scouted Jays pitches…but that’s another story for another day) they turned around and clinched a playoff spot. They would eventually lose two straight in a best-of-three series against Tampa Bay (who may win it all this year) and their playoff glory would end as fast as it began. When that happened a lot of the cynical Toronto sports fans came out and said things like ‘just like the Leafs, can’t win the big one’ or ‘another Toronto team chokes again’….this is where my gratitude mindset set in once again….first off there almost wasn’t a baseball season….secondly a team with mostly young players who didn’t have a home ballpark and a rash of injuries still made the playoffs despite a shorted season….that is a feat that is truly incredible and in the long run they will all learn from this crazy experience and become stronger for it…its the first step into a larger world…but the coolest was seeing the on-field celebration in Buffalo when they clinched….a motivational speech from third-string journeyman catcher Caleb Joseph (who was placed on waivers earlier in the month and I didn’t know was still on the team at this point) sums up the entire mindset of the 2020 Blue Jays and can be watched here…
So what can we learn from all of this? First off I want to say that the purpose of this writing is not to downplay the fact that many are suffering right now…I’ve said that in the past and will do so again. But I encounter people on an almost daily basis who act like they are suffering when they are not. They just have certain amenities in their life that are out of alignment and cope with it by only focusing on the negative. That just creates toxicity and doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Remember in most circumstances as bad as things can get they can always get worse. I’ve listed what I’m thankful for this year…and if this is what I can accomplish in what many have considered to be the worst year of their lives than 2021 should be effortless. That year will have its share of hardships too but the Gregorian calendar dates aren’t what matters…its the vibration your tuned to in your chest and between your ears. That is what will get you through any of the rough calendar years you will experience for as long as you may live. Instead of mourning Eddie…contribute to the 6000% sales increase and revel in the good times forged by him and his bandmates. Remember too, after losing many to injuries and not even having a place to PLAY the Blue Jays pulled off the unthinkable in a season that really shouldn’t have happened and will continue that swagger and confidence well into the future. Adversity is the foundation for growth….so how will YOU respond when life gets this chaotic again??