SPORTS/ESSAY

BASEBALL HEAVEN

WORLD SERIES VICTORY: ‘NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE THIS AWAY FROM US’

BOB LEVIN November 2 1992
SPORTS/ESSAY

BASEBALL HEAVEN

WORLD SERIES VICTORY: ‘NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE THIS AWAY FROM US’

BOB LEVIN November 2 1992

BASEBALL HEAVEN

WORLD SERIES VICTORY: ‘NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE THIS AWAY FROM US’

SPORTS/ESSAY

There are moments that swell the heart, race the mind, stir the soul. They blaze by in all their dizzying technicolor glory, bombarding the senses even as the brain is storing away memories, record-

ing them like a video machine for later viewing.

Eight days, six baseball games—that is all it was. But it was so much more. Never mind that the first World Series on Canadian soil was played on shiny Astroturf, under a steel roof. Never mind that the paid gladiators who packed SkyDome with flag-waving Canadians were all Americans, Puerto Ricans or Dominicans. For one stunning week, a game played with a stitched ball and a wood bat managed to unite Canadians from coast to coast even as the constitutional referendum was dividing them. More than 11 million of them tuned into some contests, and non-Torontonians did not even seem to mind that the centre of their televised attention, puffed up with pride, was hated Hogtown. And in the nation’s largest city, the Blue Jays’ 4-2 Series triumph over the Atlanta Braves, wrapped up in gut-twisting style down in Dixie, sent a half million people pouring into the streets in a world-class frenzy. “When the final out registered, the city roared,” marvelled 44year-old Toronto police Insp. Gary Grant, watching over the dancing, singing throngs. “I must have high-fived 2,500 people by now— my arm will be on the disabled list tomorrow.” For the Jays themselves, the road to victory was paved with fine pitching, timely hitting and steely nerves. To get there meant overcoming

past failures, high expectations and shoddy umpiring, and they seemed to savor every breathless moment of it. Ed Sprague’s ninthinning homer in Game 2 in Atlanta, stopping 50,000 tomahawkers in mid-chop. Devon White’s wall-banging catch in Game 3, Jimmy Key’s precision pitching in Game 4, Pat Borders’s Most Valuable Player performance throughout the Series, and Dave Winfield’s llth-inning double in the classic, cardiac-arresting Game 6 that let the celebrations begin. And no one had more to celebrate than Cito Gaston, the much-criticized Jays skipper who, amid the champagne showers in the winners’ clubhouse, stood a vindicated man. “I’m churning inside with joy and happiness for all of us,”

For one stunning week, a game played with a ball and a wood bat united Canadians even as the constitutional referendum divided them.

he said. “I don’t hold any grudges.”

For all the intensity of the Series, baseball remains a kids’ game, and the best-loved players showed an infectious enthusiasm. Take Joe Carter’s Game 3 homer, which flew into the left-field press box, off one reporter’s hands and into those of George Grande, a St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster who was doing radio

reports on the Series. After the Jays’ win that night, Grande, who has known Carter for years, found him in the clubhouse video room, going over his at-bats. Recounted Grande: “I said, ‘Boy, that must feel great to hit a World Series home run.’ He said, ‘Yeah, it’s great, it gave us the lead.’ I said, ‘Too bad you didn’t get the ball.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but I still have the thrill, I’ll always have the memory.’ And then I took the ball out and held it up and his eyes got big as saucers and he said, ‘No.’ And I said ‘ Yeah.’ And he said, ‘This is the ball?’ And I said, ‘Here, it’s yours,’ and the look on his face was just amazing.”

To some Torontonians, the wonderful World Series avenged an earlier Atlanta victory: the right to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, a prize Toronto had also sought. For all their recent rivalry, though, the two cities have

much in common. Both are painfully insecure, wary of their portrayals in the U.S. national media. As sick as Canadians are of Americans’ image of them as dog-sledding moose-hunters, so Atlantans are tired of their stereotype as tobacco-spittin’, hell-raisin’ rednecks; locals have even joked that the city’s slogan should be: “Atlanta—It’s Not Georgia.” Just as Toronto wants to be a “world-class city,” Atlanta strives to be an “international city.”

The main striver of them all, Ted Turner— Braves owner, Cable News Network founder, and Mr. Jane Fonda—has his office in Atlanta’s modern Omni complex. It looks out over an atrium filled with fast-food restaurants and, as it happens, the Canadian Consulate, where last week Consul General James Elliott draped a Jays banner in the very heart of Braves country. Yet even Canada’s man in Atlanta admitted to slightly split loyalities. “I’ve lived here two years,” said the native of London, Ont., “and I

know the Braves better than I know the Jays. I’ve been to the ballpark quite a few times, I’ve followed them on TV. So before you know it, the tomahawk chop”—he grabbed his right arm and laughed. “Remember in Dr. Strangelove, the rocket scientist kept trying to make a Nazi salute and he had to hold his arm down?” While baseball is not the traditional sport of choice in either city (Southerners are as fanatic about football as Canadians are about hockey), the Series captivated both places. What is it that makes people pack sports bars, paint their faces funny colors and live or die with every split-fingered fastball and high-arcing fly? “Maybe it’s that the fate of baseball teams seems so much like people’s own lives,” mused one Atlanta fan, 37-year-old Vivian Sandlund. “You struggle and struggle and sometimes things happen that are out of control, and you go through periods of being down and then you have to pick yourself up again.” Blue Jays

batting coach Larry Hisle opened into a slow smile as he considered the question, posed in mid-Series. “It might be unexplainable,” he finally said. “For an entire city to get caught up in whether a team wins or loses is oftentimes mind-boggling to me. In Toronto, I’m quite sure that if we win, the effects will stay with the city for years to come.”

The team, the city, the country—all will feel the effects. No one will ever again accuse the Jays of choking. No one will say Canadian fans are too sedate. “No one,” said Tom Noble, 35year-old security supervisor for the Jays, blowing his trumpet in the post-Series street celebrations, “can ever take this away from us.” Joy—sweet, unadulterated joy. It is all too rare.

BOB LEVIN

Levin, a Maclean’s Senior Editor, is a Toronto resident who used to live in Atlanta.