by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

TORONTO — Well, I’ll tell you. I heard a lot before this series started.
“It’s in Canada, for cripes sake. It’ll snow on you. How can you have the national pastime being decided north of the border?”

And for Game 1, it sure was cold. And since two countries’ worth of journalists are up here, they didn’t have room in the normal press box for all of them, so they constructed the auxiliary press box — one sports writer calls it the “Live Aid” section — which looks like an erector set stuck out in the left field corner and is, of course, completely open, so that your fingers go numb in the later innings.

And yes, they sing two national anthems up here, and most people only know the words to one and it isn’t ours.

And yes, they’re drinking Molsons. And the money they use to pay for it has funny colors and has pictures of Queen Elizabeth on it.

And I’ll tell you something.

It’s terrific.

From the moment the two teams ran on the field, suddenly there was a bit of a different feel to a baseball game. People were waving Canadian flags. They were swaying back and forth in the stands to the strains of “O Canada.” It felt more like the Winter Olympics, or at least the Commonwealth Games.

Championship baseball had gone international. For real.

A real rocking place

And once the game got under way, Canada wasted no time in cementing itself. Toronto womped its rivals from Middle America early, nearly batting around in both the second and third innings. The Blue Jays singled and doubled them to death, and all the predictions about how Toronto can’t hit left-handed pitching went out the window, or down the ski slope, as the case may be up here.

After four innings the Blue Jays had nine hits and six runs, and had chased starting pitcher Charlie Leibrandt out of the game earlier than any other team had done all year long.

The place rocked.

And when Dave Stieb struck out George Brett looking at an off-speed pitch in the sixth inning — Brett had the only two KC hits at that point — the place roared.

And when the seventh-inning stretch came around, the whole place burst into the now-famous exercise song — “OK BLUE JAYS, LETS . . . PLAY . . . BALL” — which is so innocent it’s cute, even though I keep imagining the Mickey Mouse Club doing the video.

And as if that weren’t enough, late in the game some wily fan must have spotted one George (Sparky) Anderson sitting in the front row of our Live Aid section here, and the left field stands broke out into a cheer of “SPAR-KY! SPAR-KY! SPAR-KY!”

How can you not like that?

And then, of course, there was the outcome, 6-1, Blue Jays. Pressure? What pressure? Youth? What youth?

Stieb was masterful. He allowed only three hits in eight innings. “You have to get to him early,” Brett had said, “or it’s over.”

It was over. Tom Henke came in to finish and when he got Frank White to fly to center for the last out, the thunder from the crowd was incredible. Remember that most of the Blue Jays’ runs came from the bottom half of the batting order. If the top half gets in gear today, KC could be in deep, uh, snow.

Babe Ruth hit here

Now maybe you’re a staunch traditionalist. Maybe the idea of Toronto’s making the World Series doesn’t sit right with you, even though the Blue Jays have been in the league for nine seasons.

But hey, Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in this city. I figure if it’s good enough for Babe and Sparky, how rotten can it be?

In fact, I figure this two-country business is pretty good for the game, especially in a season when so many ugly things have grabbed the headlines.

Besides, it’s not every day you watch someone yell for a hot dog through a ski mask.

And I like seeing an eggnog manufacturer get the big sign next to the scoreboard. Betcha don’t see that in the Astrodome.

All told, good for the sport. And you sure won’t hear anyone complaining around here after Tuesday night’s game.

And I would like to write more, but my fingers are frozen together. Besides, I think I see the Molson guy.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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