Buffalo and Toronto.
Toronto and Buffalo.
Our relationship is long and lasting and, uh, complicated.
On one level, it is a classic love-hate relationship. We love Toronto’s Blue Jays. We hate Toronto’s Maple Leafs.
Those two worlds collided on June 2, when the Blue Jays played their first game at Sahlen Field this season. Finally in front of actual fans in Buffalo, it came a couple of days after the Leafs lost their first-round playoff series to the Montreal Canadiens. One burly, bearded Buffalo spectator held up a sign: “The Leafs blew a 3-1 lead. And we stole your baseball team!”
This sort of cross-border taunting is not very nice, but it is funny – and fully in the spirit of the whole Buffalo-Toronto thing. So is this: As the Canadian Football League ponders putting eight of its nine teams in the playoffs, Canadian sportswriter Sean Fitz-Gerald tweeted: “Seems a bit cruel to me, but the Buffalo Sabres will be the only team to miss the CFL playoffs.”
This week the New York Yankees are in town. These Yankees are not the dominant Yankees of old, but their pinstripes are a reminder of their onetime might-makes-right aura. The imperial swagger represented by the nickname Bronx Bombers is just the sort of thing Canadians dislike most about Americans – the notions that bigger is better and money matters more than mettle.
Most fans at Sahlen Field are rooting for the Yankees, as one might expect; the Yanks have long been a fan favorite in Western New York. But lots are rooting for the Blue Jays, too. And for good reason: They are our team for now, even if only on loan. They are the parent club of our Buffalo Bisons. And they are the major-league team nearest to us.
It is almost 400 miles to New York – and less than 100 to Toronto. We share a state and a country with the Yankees, but we share a region with Toronto – and so much more:
• We share Tim Horton. He played for the Leafs and the Sabres. And he died in that auto accident on the Queen Elizabeth Way, which connects Buffalo and Toronto.
• We share Tim Hortons, too. Your doughnuts are our doughnuts.
• We share Steve Christie. The Buffalo Bills’ all-time leading scorer is from Oakville, midway between Hamilton and Toronto.
• We share Punch Imlach. The last general manager to win a Stanley Cup for the Maple Leafs was also the founding father of the Sabres – a job he took to spite the Leafs, which is also in the spirit of the whole Buffalo-Toronto thing.
Sometimes Buffalonians feel like the little brother in this relationship. Toronto is bigger and more moneyed – as if Buffalo were somehow the Canada of this friendship, and Toronto the United States of it.
Let’s take “The Full Monty” as a full-bodied example. The movie version is set in Sheffield, England. The musical version is set in Buffalo. And when the musical played in Toronto a couple of decades ago, audiences there found laugh lines in places that Broadway audiences hadn’t – all based on the Toronto-eye view of us.
The first line of the musical is: “Welcome to Girls’ Night Out. Who says Buffalo doesn’t rock?” Torontonians laughed knowingly.
“The Full Monty” is about blue-collar male strippers who look a bit like the Buffalo guy who held that Toronto-taunting sign. In the musical, when a woman sees a tryout sign for the strippers, she says, “Buffalo. We gave the world Buffalo wings. Now we’re going to give them Buffalo wieners. This I gotta see.”
These days the Blue Jays play at Sahlen Field – a ballpark named for Buffalo wieners. So, 20 years later, look who’s getting the last laugh.
Me, I’m rooting for the Blue Jays against the damn Yankees. New Yorkers dismiss us as “upstate” – meaning everything in the state outside of New York City in their Saul Steinberg view of the world. Torontonians, bless them, think more of us than that.
Yes, our relationship is complicated. But we have one. The QEW is not a one-way street.
So thanks for the Blue Jays, Toronto. We promise to take good care of them. And, honestly, we’ll be happy to give them back when the time comes.