In the end, game was right side up

JOHN EISENBERG

October 21, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- It was supposed to be a night that was going to require an open mind. An open American mind.

As if it were not enough that here was a World Series game being played outside the United States for the first time and inside that most sterile and post-modern invention known as a dome, the talk in town all day was that there would be a roaring crowd of folks holding American flags upside down.

It would be an original vision of the game, that's for sure. But not exactly hot dogs, apple pie and freckled Hucks in Norman Rockwell's living room. More like the World Series as a Sinead O'Connor meets Joe DiMaggio cross-cultural thing, still baseball as a societal icon, but fat with revision.

You just knew this conversation was going to occur in some American living room last night:

Bubba: "What the. . . ."

Bubette: "Do those people speak English, or what?"

But guess what? Nothing happened. The screaming headlines about an impending flag war was strictly "Dewey Defeats Truman" stuff. There was just a ballgame. Just another indoor game on a cold, rainy night. Everyone smiled. The Marines even got a second chance to hold the Canadian flag, and, by gum, they got it right this time.

Shouldn't we have known? Canadians don't stay mad about anything for long, except maybe cheap plaid shirts. Their idea of disturbing the peace is jaywalking. They weren't going to spoil the moment with the kind of sophomoric jingoism you would find in, say, an Atlanta newspaper.

And anyway, the part about the Series crossing the border for the first time was no big deal at all, except to xenophobes. There has been major-league baseball in Canada since Montreal got a team in 1969. No one cared then, and shouldn't now.

This was a rightfully important night in Canada, but as a U.S. sporting milestone it was as symbolically weightless as a hot dog wrapper blowing in the wind. Or, this being SkyDome, a Big Mac wrapper on the floor of the Hard Rock Cafe.

The part about a domed Series game being somehow sacrilegious was a similarly pointless and dated stance, particularly when it sleeted here two days ago and last night was 35 degrees and pouring down rain.

Maybe there was cause to take offense when the Series landed in the ridiculous Metrodome, with its trash bag wall and giant heaters blowing home runs back into play. That's barely baseball. But baseball in SkyDome is the real thing, at least no different from any other baseball on grass painted green.

Besides, there is symbolism and then there is pneumonia.

"No matter what your position is on baseball indoors, I think you can't help being happy we're in here tonight," Blue Jays closer Tom Henke said. "We wouldn't be having a lick of fun tonight if we were over at the old [Exhibition] stadium."

Henke, a longtime Jay, sat in the bullpen there for hundreds of games. But see, the point is that he didn't actually sit in the bullpen.

"If you sat out there too long, you'd stiffen up like a board," he said. "They started letting the bullpen sit in the dugout, or even in the clubhouse. It was just too cold with the ballpark sitting right there on the lake. Even in July and August you had to wear a jacket."

So we were all inside last night and, begging your pardon, damn glad about it. Maybe that's why the flag war just died. Who can stay mad when they're beating frostbite?

Still, the happy peace was a little surprising. You know the background, right? A Marine color guard from Georgia held the Canadian flag upside down before Game 2, and Canada went ballistic, having been hit right where it hurts. Thousands of American flags were sold here in the ensuing two days. Obviously, there were people with revenge in mind.

All three local newspapers led with editorials asking that people let it drop, that the Marines had meant no offense, that an eye for an eye would put a blemish on the fine night. You figured there was no way it would work. Before the game there were vendors outside the dome selling T-shirts with upside-down American flags. Dozens of banners were hung inside.

But then nothing happened. When it was time for the anthems before the game, the public address announcer read a statement explaining that the Marines had asked for a second chance. They marched out and held the flag. There was a huge cheer. The whole thing just died. Then the anthems were sung and it was time for the first pitch, and you know what? It was a great night for baseball.

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