In Series, it's America's Team vs. Canada's Team Newspaper sounds nationalistic note

October 18, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- The headline atop the sports section of yesterday's Atlanta Journal and Constitution outlined the first international World Series in no uncertain terms.

"This is OUR game."

So began the Them vs. Us Series. The first World Series played between teams located in different countries began with a journalistic border skirmish. The tabloid Toronto Sun undoubtedly will respond in kind when the Toronto Blue Jays play host to the middle three games of the series at SkyDome.

The Braves are America's Team, but is baseball really America's game? That is a matter of debate north of the border, where they have been enjoying "our" national game a lot longer than many regions of the United States. It's no wonder the possessive headline in the local newspaper drew an argument from some Canadians.

"It's BS," said Neil MacCarl, the dean of Canadian baseball writers. "There's evidence that baseball was played in a little town of Beechville [Ontario] before Cooperstown. Toronto was the longest continuous member of the International League, from 1885 through 1967. Babe Ruth hit his one and only minor-league home run in Toronto -- for the Providence team."

It is obvious that MacCarl has done his homework. He has covered baseball in Canada for 43 years, or about 16 years longer than the Atlanta Constitution has had a major-league team to cover. Who can argue that Toronto isn't a real baseball city when the Blue Jays own the major-league record for single-season attendance?

"I think it's all in fun," said columnist Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun. "I think that most of this is actually coming from Canada. We started it. I sometimes think we've got a little chip on our shoulder about this.

"There is this perception in Canada that all of America is horrified that Toronto is in the World Series. I don't see that."

There was a tremendous nationalist fervor at the American League Championship Series in Toronto, especially during the Blue Jays' pennant-clinching, 9-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics in Game 6. Canadian flags hung from the windows of SkyDome Hotel and hundreds were visible in the stands. It looked more like the Olympics than the playoffs.

Them vs. Us. The feeling might be more prevalent in Toronto for another reason. The city made a major push for the 1996 Summer Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to Atlanta, which will put them on U.S. soil for the second time in 12 years.

The Blue Jays are as much Canada's Team as the Braves are America's. The club has been marketed aggressively throughout the provinces, far more so than the more venerable (but still young) Montreal Expos franchise. There also is a Them vs. Us thing going on between Quebec and Ontario -- make that Quebec and the world -- but that's another story.

There are no native-born Canadian players on the Blue Jays roster, but the team has taken the job of representing Canada very seriously.

"It's great to be part of this and to have the kind of support that we do from across the country," said pitcher Jimmy Key, who is expected to start Game 4 at SkyDome. "We're kind of the Atlanta Braves of Canado. It makes you feel good that you have people all across Canada supporting us."

Braves manager Bobby Cox knows what it's like. He managed the Blue Jays from 1981 through 1985 and came within one victory of bringing the World Series to Canada in his final year. Toronto blew a 3-1 lead in the first year of the best-of-seven format and the World Series remained a U.S. exclusive for another six years.

"I think this is great," Cox said, "especially since they've been knocking at the door for so long. It's a great situation up there. They've proven it by drawing 4 million people the last two years."

They no longer have anything to prove. Toronto was a world-class city long before its baseball team became a World Series participant. The Blue Jays have been popular visitors to most of the American League cities, but they have run into some provincialism in the home of the Braves.

World Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves

(Best of seven)

Last night: at Atlanta

Tonight: at Atlanta, 8:29

Tuesday: at Toronto, 8:29

Wednesday: at Toronto, 8:26

Thursday: at Toronto, 8:26*

Oct. 24: at Atlanta, 8:26*

Oct. 25: at Atlanta, 8:29*

(*-if necessary)

TV: Channels 11, 9

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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