Atlantans make case for North, eh?


October 20, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- Not that I believe that the trumped-up Us vs. Them underpinning of this first "international" World Series will get stoked into the border bonfire some people want it to be, but, just in case it does, I'm announcing my support for Them.

Now, before you accuse me of renouncing my citizenship, just let me say that I didn't go to Moscow in 1969 intending to . . . oops, sorry. What I meant to say was this: If you had been in Atlanta for the first two games, you would also be pulling for Toronto. Yes, Camden Yarders, even you would be cheering for the infernal Blow Jays.

It's just that coming here yesterday was like coming back to civilization after a baseball weekend in Atlanta, with its irritating chop, its Marine guard that didn't know which end of the Canadian flag was up and its embarrassing newspaper.

Before Game 1, the headline of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution sports section was: "Message to Toronto: This is OUR Game." Beneath that was an essay that included this pearl: "The Canadians are riding across the border to wrest away the Holy Grail of American sport and cart our game off to the frozen north."

Would it be asking too much for someone to tie up the people responsible for this and put them in a closet?

First off, Atlantans calling baseball "our game" sets a new standard for presumption. The Braves drew less than a million fans just two years ago. The ballpark was almost empty. It was as if the few fans had been rounded up by the cops and ordered to go because, well, someone had to, right?

Those choppers filling the seats now, moaning as if they were on Valium, are the definition of front-runners.

Anyway, this "our game" stuff didn't even take into account that there has been baseball in Canada since 1859, even before Jack Morris was pitching. And the choppers certainly didn't take offense when interloper Francisco Cabrera was allowed to swing a bat in "our game" last week.

OK, so I shouldn't blame all of Atlanta just because of a few nitwit newspaper editors. But then the Marines held Canada's flag upside down before Game 2. The few, the proud, fill in your own punch line.

And, hey, that's an easy flag to get right. Imagine what's going to happen in four years when Senegal and Luxembourg show up for the Olympics. Hopefully, we'll get some professionals in there to give those Southern boys some flag training.

Naturally, people in Canada went crazy. Phone calls flooded TV and newspaper switchboards. As said Kristen Babb-Sprague, the American gold- medal-winning wife of home-run-hitting Ed Sprague: "If someone did that to the U.S. flag, I don't think I'd be real happy myself."

It was an accident, but you couldn't tell that to the people here, who are pennant winners at detecting real and imagined slights by Americans.

Basically, they think we think they're unimportant, or something like that. And they're right. It's nothing to be proud of, but Americans are generally dismissive of Canada. A Toronto TV crew recently asked Jays pitcher Jimmy Key if he knew the national capital. Key has played here nine years, and he got the answer -- Ottawa -- but had to think a minute.

(Maybe Canadians would feel better if we told them that half of our people don't know our capital, either, unless you tell them it's where the Redskins play.)

What's too bad is that Toronto has no business feeling inferior to anyone. It's a sensational city. Downtown is vibrant. You can walk the streets at night. Dozens of cultures mix as well as anywhere in the world. I love the place. It's New York without the garbage.

Hey, the whole country is an appealing place. They use a $2 bill. They give you a point for a kickoff between the goal posts. They think the wave is stupid. What more is there to life?

But they're defensive and mad, and it's too bad, but there are a lot of people here who are going to hang this Series in an Us vs. Them frame. The upside-down flag sealed it.

It's all ridiculous, of course. The lines are completely blurred. The Jays are almost all Americans. Sprague's wife was wearing a U.S. flag jacket when her husband hit the homer that sent Canada into a delirium. When Sprague, a Californian, was asked about the upside-down flag incident, he said, "Yeah, they kind of hid our flag." Meaning Canada's.

"We're just playing baseball," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "It shouldn't be any more than that."

Right. Yes. But in case they make me choose . . .

. . . just this once . . .

. . . nice morning, eh?

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