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Original Issue

SARS and Strikes in Toronto The virus frightens visitors and hurts the Blue Jays--at the gate

The American League East's last-place Blue Jays have been
floundering on the mound and at the plate, yet the prospect of
playing in Toronto makes some rivals queasy with fear. The city,
a favorite among ballplayers for its restaurants and nightlife,
has been added to the World Health Organization's (WHO) list of
places to avoid because of SARS. No city outside China has been
more affected by the virus, which has killed 20, infected 257 and
forced the quarantine of at least 10,000 people in Toronto since

Because the Raptors didn't make the NBA postseason and the Maple
Leafs were eliminated from the NHL playoffs, baseball was the
only major sport active in Toronto when the WHO issued its April
23 advisory. Unlike in Asia, where events such as the women's
world hockey championships in Beijing and the Singapore Airlines
horse race have been canceled, few Canadian sports have been
affected. In a call to Blue Jays trainers last Friday, baseball's
medical adviser, Elliott Pellman, suggested players wash their
hands frequently, use their own pens to sign autographs and avoid

Many major leaguers would prefer to avoid Toronto. Pitcher Kevin
Appier of the Angels, who visit the Blue Jays on May 2, suggested
the series be moved to Anaheim. Several visiting players plan to
quarantine themselves in their hotel rooms when not at the
Skydome, and some have contemplated wearing surgical masks to
games. Sterling Hitchcock of the Yankees, who played in Toronto
last month, complained, "There are people keeling over in that

In contrast, the Blue Jays have been calm, and many players are
making a point to mingle with fans. "It's a shame [Appier and
others] are so out of touch," says Jays president Paul Godfrey,
who estimates that his team has lost out on the sale of 10,000
tickets because of the SARS scare. "By some reports you'd think
it's the realm of the bubble boy here."

The number of reported cases in Toronto is, in fact, on the
decline, prompting Health Canada to issue a statement rebutting
the WHO and declaring Toronto safe for travel. The Jays were
offering more than 30,000 tickets at a dollar apiece to their
game against the Rangers in an effort to bring back fans. Among
the loyalists is Toronto mayor Mel Lastman, who urged his
constituents to "eat at your favorite restaurant, go to the
theater, cheer for the Blue Jays. I'm going to the Jays game,
although I don't believe they are going very far." --Kelley King

COLOR PHOTO: HANS DERYK/TORONTO STAR/AP SAFE? A masked fan covers his bases at the Skydome.