Baseball: Toronto turning a trend: Mike Ross on how Canada has shaken up the World Series

GOING into last night's sixth game in Atlanta, the American League champions, Toronto Blue Jays, with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven contest, were poised for the second consecutive time to win their first World Series. It would be the first by a team from outside the United States.

Toronto is a haven of opportunity for foreigners. Scottish and Irish accents prevail throughout the pretty and well-modernised cosmopolitan city, and nowhere can you find better Chinese restaurants. But as baseball fans go, they are seen to be an odd bunch by their major league neighbours across the border.

Canadian fans have baggage. They carry a heavyweight inferiority complex; it is real and it hurts them. Not only as Canadians, but as not-quite-right fans of baseball. After all, it is an American game. One poet even said it: 'If you care to understand about Americans you must first understand baseball.' So where does that leave Canada? They don't know quite how to behave.

During the regular season, the team doyen Dave Winfield confessed to a local scribe that the Toronto players felt a lack of enthusiasm from the fans. During Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Braves at the Dome, some of their fans started booing. The problem was that, upon reflection, none of the players knew precisely why.

But the worst insult to the Canadians came during the playing of their anthem, 'Oh Canada', just before Game One in Atlanta, by a US Marine guard who took to displaying Canada's Maple Leaf flag upside down. Such an error by the normally fastidious marines should have been viewed as a bit of slapstick relief; instead it caused a furore. Canadians sought retribution; eventually President Bush was forced to issue an apology.

None the less, word got around Toronto prior to Canada's first ever World Series game, that fans were seeking revenge and were not going to stand up for the 'Star Spangled Banner', would wave upside down American flags, while wearing T-shirts hastily printed with upside down Stars and Stripes. But, thanks to a colossal PR coup, that same US Marine guard were unexpectedly invited to play 'Oh Canada' on the Toronto turf, this time with the flag straight up. A white dove seemed to ascend to the 31-storey domed roof top.

Alas, no sooner had the incident settled than another broadside hit Canada below the waterline. National World Series commentator Bill Geist showed what appeared as a bunch of silly Canadian kids knowing no better than to be playing baseball with hockey sticks and pucks. Geist went on to suggest to 70 million viewers that if the Blue Jays win the championship, the Queen should telephone their club house, a la Bush, to offer congratulations. That did it. If Canada wasn't sure, it knew now: 'Americans don't know about we Canadians and couldn't care less. You expect more from a neighbour you love dearly.'

Canadian fans may never win, but their champions, the Blue Jays, have a good chance of going all the way.

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