Blue Jays commentator calls elderly fans across Canada to check in during pandemic
When Blue Jays baseball commentator Jamie Campbell ran into fans who told him that they had an older relative who really loved him, he used to joke that he should call them right now.
And sometimes, he really would follow through.
"I'd stand there with complete strangers and just phone their parents and grandparents and I got such joy out of it," said Campbell.
But the host of Sportsnet's Blue Jays Central took that idea to the next level during the COVID-19 pandemic with this tweet:
Thread: 1. It's a scary time, but older people may feel particularly isolated and alone. If your parents/grandparents are <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlueJays?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BlueJays</a> fans and you think their spirits would be raised by a phone call, send me a direct message with their name, number, and best time to call.—@SNETCampbell
2. I'll reach out to as many as I can. Please refrain from telling them to 'expect' my call in case the volume of requests is high. Will do my best. Be safe all.—@SNETCampbell
Since that offer to reach out to fans, Campbell has been making calls daily.
By late April he said he'd made nearly 1,000 calls.
"When this crisis really took hold ... I decided the best way I can reach out to the aging and vulnerable — who make up a huge, huge section of our fan base — is to pick up the phone and call them," said Campbell.
One of his most memorable calls was with a woman in Simcoe, Ont. Campbell said that she had been sick (unrelated to the pandemic) and unable to leave her apartment for more than a year.
"I've actually written her phone number down on a little sticky note, put it on my fridge and I'm going to be reaching out to her frequently just to check in to see how she's doing," he said.
In an interview with CBC Toronto's Metro Morning, Campbell noted that he also spoke to a Jays fan who had lost both parents in the mass shooting in Nova Scotia in April.
Campbell's quest may have started as a way to engage with fans while the baseball season is delayed, but he rarely talks to them about baseball. Instead, the calls get surprisingly personal.
"I tend to be a part of their family during the summertime when they flip on their TV," he said.
"It's almost as if we were relatives that, for whatever reason, were separated years ago and now we're back together."
Campbell attributes that instant connection to the unifying power of baseball. During the summer, games are broadcast on television almost every day, bringing together fans from across the country to check in on their favourite team.
Campbell believes baseball bestows a sense of hope on viewers and players, even outside game time.
As fans gear up for the next season, "the winter disappears and those dark days of January and February are going to be gone soon, and soon the flowers will bloom and the grass will turn green," said Campbell.
"Baseball is tied into every aspect of hope and sunshine and good days ahead."