The per­fect tem­po­rary home for the Blue Jays

National Post (National Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - STEVEN SHUL­MAN

As a Toron­to­nian, my first real cheer of this sport­ing season was when I heard that Buf­falo, N.Y., would be the tem­po­rary home of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Buf­falo will hope­fully pro­vide a safe haven for our state­less Cana­dian club (as­sum­ing the season con­tin­ues, of course — which I certainly hope proves pos­si­ble to do safely). And this is a good thing, as the city has al­ways given more to Toronto than it has taken. Now it is time to pay it back.

There is a long his­tory of the two cities shar­ing teams, and of Cana­di­ans head­ing south of the bor­der to catch a game.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans have in­vaded the Buf­falo Sabres rink since the lat­ter started play­ing in 1970, when I was a kid. Buf­falo pro­vides Toronto fans a fun, af­ford­able en­vi­ron­ment to cheer against the local team. Buf­falo’s re­venge: the Sabres have an all-time home record of 72-30-8 against the Leafs.

Buf­falo loaned us their NBA team, the Braves, in the early 1970s for some games at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Braves went west and are now the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers, the same Clip­pers that stole Kawhi Leonard from the Rap­tors.

Toronto hosted se­lect Buf­falo Bills foot­ball games be­tween 2008 and 2012. Our Amer­i­can neigh­bours feared Toronto would claim the team that is a re­li­gion in its home­town. An an­nual game or two in Toronto? Try mov­ing the Kaaba from Mecca, the Western Wall from Jerusalem or St. Peter’s from the Holy See.

For many on a budget, Buf­falo was an in­ex­pen­sive stand-in for internatio­nal travel. All the same, too many Cana­di­ans looked down their noses at Buf­falo. Toronto was grow­ing and new, and Buf­falo was con­tract­ing and old. It was our liv­ing ver­sion of The Guess Who’s Amer­i­can Woman, but Cana­di­ans didn’t stay away. We con­tin­ued to visit and were warmly wel­comed, de­spite our un­wel­come com­ments.

Why did so many of us go? Food comes to mind. Ex­hibit A: chicken wings in the place of their birth. Con­nois­seurs of Buf­falo wings re­viewed es­tab­lish­ments as one would Miche­lin star-rated din­ing in the south of France.

Yet shop­ping was the biggest draw. When the ex­change rate was bet­ter, prices couldn’t be beat. Buf­falo’s shop­ping power peaked when the Walden Gal­le­ria opened in 1989. With many U.S. chains not yet in Canada, it might as well have been Mi­lano’s Gal­le­ria.

Even gro­ceries were an at­trac­tion. They al­ways had the ce­re­als that were not yet avail­able in Canada, the kind that would turn your milk a dif­fer­ent colour in five sec­onds flat. To breakfast-lov­ing kids, Canada was be­hind ce­real’s iron cur­tain.

At age eight, my first whiff of a le­gal ed­u­ca­tion was in Buf­falo, where I started un­der­stand­ing Canada’s cus­toms ex­emp­tion lim­its. It could also be an ed­u­ca­tion in il­le­gal­ity.

Ru­mour has it that many On­tario fam­i­lies hatched their first and only crim­i­nal con­spir­a­cies in Buf­falo-area mall park­ing lots, de­stroy­ing ev­i­dence by cutting the tags off everything from socks to sweaters. They could be spot­ted hud­dling near waste bins, cov­er­ing up their dirty work in a cold sweat as if they were in the cli­mac­tic scenes of Good­fel­las.

Back in the ’70s, in a world of TV chan­nels that could be counted on two hands, for those in southern On­tario, Buf­falo was Amer­ica’s front door and, coun­ter­in­tu­itively, tele­vi­sion opened that door even more than a visit. Their am­bas­sador was Chan­nel 7’s Eye­wit­ness News. Anchor Irv We­in­stein,

THEY AL­WAYS HAD THE CE­RE­ALS THAT WERE NOT YET AVAIL­ABLE IN CANADA.

Rick Azar on sports and weath­er­man Tom Jolls set a longevity record for an Amer­i­can news team.

Aside from re­port­ing on fires, bliz­zards and gen­eral may­hem, one rea­son Eye­wit­ness News at­tracted Cana­dian view­ers was per­son­al­ity. They showed that news­cast­ers could crack a smile and still have au­thor­ity. This was be­fore CNN, head­lined by Buf­falo’s Wolf Bl­itzer, who must have learned a thing or two watch­ing We­in­stein. Azar and Jolls are long re­tired and, sadly, We­in­stein died in 2017 at age 87.

While it has not had a ma­jor league team for over a cen­tury, Buf­falo has hosted pro­fes­sional base­ball since 1879, mostly mi­nor league, in­clud­ing the Blue Jays’ top farm team, the Buf­falo Bisons. In so many ways, Buf­falo has been part of the story of Toronto and southern On­tario and, as the Blue Jays tem­po­rary home, so it is again.

Oh how I yearn for Irv We­in­stein, of blessed me­mory, to sit be­hind the news desk one more time, de­liv­er­ing the lead like no other: “Top­ping tonight’s Eye­wit­ness News, Buf­falo is back in the ma­jor leagues.” For at least 25 well de­served games, we hope.

HAND­OUT / WKBW

Irv We­in­stein an­chored Eye­wit­ness News on Chan­nel 7 in Buf­falo and was well known to many Cana­di­ans.

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