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Original Issue

Canada from Eh to Zed

As the Fall Classic makes its debut in Canada, a neighbour from the north offers a few polite (naturally) pointers

We're pretty excited about the World Series up here in Canada, home of the Arctic mass. From Kamloops, British Columbia, to Come by Chance, Newfoundland, fans are putting aside their traditional loathing of trendy Toronto to wave the Blue Jay banner and the maple leaf flag. (By the way, we traditionally do the latter with the leaf pointy-side up.) We've abandoned our usual national chant—"We're Number Two! We're Number Two!"—for a coast-to-coast chorus of "OK Blue Jays! Let's Play Ball!"

Reports filtering north lead us to believe that you Americans welcome the internationalization of the Fall Classic with the enthusiasm you would normally reserve for a plague of locusts. We're sorry you feel that way. Really we are. Maybe you would change your mind if you learned a little more about your neighbours north of the world's longest undefended border.

We're only trying to help, eh?

A is for AMERICANS, which all the Blue Jays are, all the ones who aren't from Puerto Rico, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. There are those who would make a big deal out of this, but we haven't noticed anybody counting how many Atlanta Braves were born in Georgia or, for that matter, have aboriginal blood in their veins.

B is for BUNTING. In the United States, it's red, white and blue. In Canada, it's our favourite offensive weapon. Just ask Jimy Williams (he who learned how to spell his name from Dan Quayle).

Williams, the Atlanta third base coach is, of course, a former Blue Jay manager. In the winter before taking over as the Jays' skipper, he was trotted around the annual banquet tour to rally the fans. At a dinner in Ottawa, Williams was asked, not for the first time, if he planned to use the bunt more than his predecessor had. "What is it with you Canadians?" he asked, clearly exasperated. "You all think the bunt is God Almighty."

Well, why not? Bunting is a very Canadian thing to do: obedient, modest, self-effacing, efficient, polite. As a baseball tactic, it practically screams out, "Excuse me." The home run is American; the bunt is Canadian, and when the bunter is done, he trots politely to the dugout, embarrassed by the applause.

C is for CUSTOMS, which you have to clear before you can come here to watch the World Series. You must have some identification—a passport if possible—but there are no skill-testing questions.

You have to leave your weapons at home if you want to come north. Our gun-control laws are stricter than yours, so handguns are not welcome. This week border guards are probably confiscating tomahawks, too.

D is for DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, the other nation with a significant rooting interest in this Series. Dominican fans figured to be rooting wholeheartedly for the Blue Jays, what with pitching sensation Juan Guzman being a national hero in the Dominican Republic now, and Manuel Lee and Alfredo Griffin being not far behind. But then, of course, Francisco Cabrera, another Dominican, did his ninth-inning number for the Braves against the Pirates, becoming an instant celebrity and creating some confused loyalties down on the island.

E is for EXCUSE ME, which is what a Canadian says when you step on his foot. Apology is the Canadian way, part of our national inferiority complex.

F is for Jane FONDA, last Friday's "Sunshine Girl" in the tabloid Toronto Sun. On its front page the paper ran a full-colour picture of Mrs. Ted Turner wearing a Blue Jay sweater, holding up her fingers in a victory sign. The Sun, known mainly for its pinup photos, right-wing views and bite-sized articles, explained in fine print that the photo had been taken a few years ago, when Ms. Fonda was not yet a baseball wife. Which didn't stop Torontonians from posting it on every fridge door in the city.

F is also for the folks at FITNESS ONTARIO, who lead the exercises that make up the seventh-inning stretch at SkyDome, a quaint custom of which we are sure Ms. Fonda will approve.

G is for Cito GASTON, who has so far brought three division championships and one pennant to Toronto in four seasons as the Blue Jays' manager. And every night on the phone-in shows, someone says he should be fired. Go figure. The players love him because he leaves them alone and lets them do their jobs. The know-all fans hate him because they can't see his wheels turning. That he is also one of only two black managers in baseball is something Canadian fans stopped noticing a long time ago.

H is for HANLON'S POINT, in Toronto, where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run. You could look it up. H, therefore, is also for baseball HISTORY, which I bet you didn't think we had.

I is for IGLOOS. There are very few of them in downtown Toronto. Ditto dogsleds, beavers, grizzly bears and moose. How can you tell an American tourist? He's the one who brings skis along for a holiday in July.

J is for Peter JENNINGS. Did you know he's Canadian? So are Paul Anka, Anne Murray, Oscar Peterson, Michael Myers, Alex Trebek, Robert MacNeil and Donald Sutherland. We may be an alien nation, but we're a bigger part of your culture than you know. Watch out.

K is for KILOMETRES, kilograms, litres and degrees Celsius. It's 100 metres from home plate to the leftfield corner at SkyDome. Like most of the civilized world, Canada is metric, so our measurements may seem a bit strange to you. Don't worry about it. We'll translate. (You may have noticed already that we spell like the British: Devon White labours in centre field.)

L is for LANGUAGES, of which we have two official ones, English and French. Atlanta rightfielder Dave Justice thinks he knows all about it. In a pre-Series interview, he described a visit to Toronto. "I didn't go walking around much," he said, "because if I got lost and I encountered someone speaking French, I knew I had no chance. So I just kind of stayed in my hotel room."

He needn't have worried. In Toronto he would have been more likely to encounter someone speaking Italian or Portuguese. But American fans should perhaps learn a few French phrases in preparation for next year's all-Canadian World Series, when the Montreal Expos will represent the National League. A strike is a prise, an out is a retrait, and a home run is a circuit.

M is for funny MONEY: Our two-dollar bills are pink, our five-dollar bills are blue, and our 10-dollar bills purple. We haven't got any dollar bills, just coins we call loonies. This is because they have the image of a loon on the flip side of the portrait of Queen Elizabeth, although these days a lot of us think that it's because anyone who believes the dollar has any real worth is ready for the loony bin. Over the years, Blue Jay players have been known to laugh at our money all the way to the bank.

N is for the NETWORKS. Not that we want to point any fingers. That would be rude, and Canadians are never rude, but we wish some of the television commentators in the U.S. would do their homework and get some basic facts right. Excuse me, CBS, but Toronto is on Lake Ontario, not Lake Erie. And CNN, for your information, Duane Ward and Tom Henke are not a "lefty-righty tandem." They both pitch from the right side. And very well, too. This kind of thing drives us bonkers.

O is for O CANADA, the Canadian national anthem, never before played at a World Series game until now. It's easier to sing than yours.

O is also for OK BLUE JAYS, the irritating song played during our seventh-inning fitness break.

P is for the PRIME MINISTER, Brian Mulroney, who is in almost as much trouble as your President, and also for the PREMIER of Ontario, Bob Rae. He's a socialist (that's allowed up here) and a real baseball fan. The son of a diplomat, he rooted for the Washington Senators when his family was posted there. He was also Richard Nixon's paper boy, and some analysts assume a connection between the size of the tips Mrs. Nixon gave him with his eventual leftward leanings.

Q is for QUEEN ELIZABETH II, who is the Canadian head of state. There has been some confusion about what will happen when the Blue Jays win the World Series. Will President Bush invite them to the White House? Why should he? They're Canada's team. We think they should be invited to Buckingham Palace. ("Will that be milk or lemon with your tea, Mr. Alomar?")

R is for the ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE. You'll see their scarlet tunics and flat-brimmed hats during the opening ceremonies, but don't expect to see them directing traffic in those getups. The Nelson Eddy paraphernalia is strictly for the tourists.

S is for SEA GULLS, which you won't see inside SkyDome, for which Toronto slugger Dave Winfield is grateful. When the Blue Jays played in Exhibition Stadium on the lakefront, sea gulls were natural outfield hazards. In 1983 Winfield, who was then playing for the Yankees, astonished everyone, including himself, by killing one when he tossed a warmup ball toward the bullpen. He was arrested by an overzealous member of the local constabulary and charged with cruelty to animals.

Whenever Winfield returned to Toronto, sea gulls with long memories gathered in rightfield and dive-bombed him, anxious for vengeance. This year he's mobbed only by adoring fans.

T is for TORONTO, home of the Blue Jays. You may think you've never seen it before, but you probably have, in the movies, masquerading as New York, Chicago or Boston. When it's imitating New York, however, the moviemakers bring in prop garbage to litter the streets.

U is for UNITY. On Oct. 26 Canadians will be voting in a referendum on national unity. The measure is complex (suffice it to say you vote either Yes or No), but it's sort of like your upcoming election: Each alternative is as distasteful as the other.

Some of the tall foreheads in political office hope that the presence of the Blue Jays in the World Series will make all Canadians feel so warm and fuzzy that we will vote Yes. Others feel that this is wishful thinking and that the Yes Team must be pretty desperate to be looking to the ball diamond for salvation. Still others believe that since the referendum is nonbinding, it's nothing more than an extremely expensive opinion poll and we might as well forget it and enjoy the ball game. You can see why the World Series is a welcome distraction.

V is for Otto VELEZ, an original Blue Jay and part of the small tradition we have scraped together in 16 years in the big leagues. Longtime fans took a moment to remember him and all the others who had the misfortune to be Blue Jays at the wrong time.

W is for the WAR OF 1812. We won. You lost. Nyaah-nyaah.

X is for X-RATED interludes. There haven't been any since May 15, 1990, when an amorous couple in one of the stadium-view hotel rooms at SkyDome found an original way to pass the time during a boring game against the Mariners. After the lovebirds were spotted in their window by a killjoy columnist who blew the whistle on them, all guests checking into those rooms have to sign an indemnity agreement not to make whoopee with the curtains open.

Y is for YANKEES, the hatred of whom is the one thing fans in Atlanta and Toronto have in common.

Z is for Z. We pronounce it Zed. You wanna make something of it?



Alison Gordon, a Canadian, covered the Blue Jays for The Toronto Star and is the author of several baseball mysteries.