Meaningful Games: Atlanta

This is the first pennant-race dispatch from Invisible author Andrew Forbes (What You Need). He’ll be blogging in this space, come hell or high water, until the final out of the year. In Spring 2016 we’ll be releasing The Utility of Boredom, a collection of Forbes’s baseball essays; you can get a small taste of what that’ll look like over here

The Toronto Blue Jays are down in Atlanta this week, a fairly significant locale in the history of the franchise. They took the same flight in the fall of 1992 and captured their first title. They were a different team then, a gang of local favourites with some eventual Hall of Famers thrown in, but Canada was behind them and the SkyDome was their home address. Things were, in a lot of ways, just like they are right now.

When the Jays’ front office splashed out at this year’s trade deadline and picked up David Price, probably the biggest-name pitcher on the market at the time, I said to my dad on the phone, “It feels like when they got David Cone in ’92, doesn’t it?” Late that season Toronto sent young second baseman Jeff Kent and an outfielder named Ryan Thompson to the Mets for Cone. As with Price this year, it was kind of the team’s all-in moment, signalling the belief that this was the year. It worked that season, in terms of eventually delivering a World Series title, but also in the sense of roping in the attention of a good number of Canadians, many of whom hadn’t been watching baseball before that point. Some, uncharitably, call that a bandwagon, which is another way of saying, “Yeah, but I was into their early stuff,” and should be disregarded in the same way.

Nothing guarantees anything, of course, least of all the acquisition of a starting pitcher, but maybe it tilts the odds a bit. Who knows. Cone wasn’t actually all that dominant late in the summer and through the autumn of 1992, but perhaps his arrival goosed the energy around the team somewhat. At any rate, they made the Series, flew down to Atlanta, former president Jimmy Carter threw out the first pitch, and Tom Glavine beat Jack Morris to give Atlanta a one-game lead. Before the second game the Marine Corps Color Guard flew our flag upside down, in what was maybe a terrible indignity, or maybe a sweet encapsulation of the relationship between our two nations. I’m still not quite sure. The Atlanta fans, forgetting their antebellum manners, engaged in the “tomahawk chop,” goaded on by music on the stadium PA system, and back at the SkyDome fans draped themselves in Canadian flags, suggesting the match-up stood for something bigger.

The Blue Jays won the Series in six games, and their celebration took place on the infield grass of Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium on October 24, 1992. It was a Saturday. I was sixteen years old. I watched it with friends at a house in suburban Ottawa, and afterward we went out into the street wearing our caps and sweatshirts. We had noisemakers. I don’t know where we got them. We walked around and whooped and blew horns and clapped. A few cars recognized the cause of our stupidity and honked in solidarity. It wasn’t streets full of revellers like we’d hoped, but it was something.

Fulton County Stadium is gone now. The Braves moved into Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium after the ’96 Games, shifted some furniture around, and renamed the place Turner Field in honour of their owner (and Jane Fonda’s husband). The Braves have already broken ground on yet another park, somewhere out in the Atlanta suburbs, to be opened in 2017. That either says a lot about how long it’s been since that first Toronto championship, or about Atlanta’s fickleness, or possibly both. It also suggests that things change.

In Atlanta this week, Braves’ TV man Chip Caray called the Jays offense “relentless, ruthless, power-laden.” “I’m a believer,” he said. The ’92 team was not the runaway offensive team that this year’s squad is, but they were consistent. They weren’t swept in a single series all season. The Braves, meanwhile, were at the beginning of their decade-and-a-half of dominance back then, whereas now they’re in something of a fallow. There won’t be a Series rematch this year. But they still play that awful music over the loudspeaker, and though I wish I could say it had been relegated to the past, they still do that chant, which suggests a cartoonish misunderstanding of native American culture. It boggles the mind, but then maybe it shouldn’t.

The Jays will leave Atlanta with their division lead intact, then come home to packed stands, fans in blue or in the team’s alternate gear, plastered with red maple leaves. Maybe they’ll win the World Series again, maybe they won’t. I’ll watch the games with my kids on the laptop or Chromecast them onto the big TV hung on the wall. I might wear the jersey I’ve had for 25 years, which looks an awful lot like the ones they wear now. One of my five year olds prides himself on being able to spot the difference between the old logo and the new. I might also wear the cap my dad bought me in ’92, made of wool, or I might wear my new one, the polyester version the players wear now. Things change, and yet they kind of don’t.

Andrew Forbes was born in Ottawa, Ontario and attended Carleton University. He has written film and music criticism, liner notes, sports columns, and short fiction. His work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared in publications including VICE Sports, The Classical, The New Quarterly, and This Magazine. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

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