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Toronto Blue Jays players celebrate their walk-off win to eliminate the Texas Rangers during the tenth inning to win the American League Division Series in Toronto on Sunday, October 9, 2016. (Mark Blinch/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Blue Jays players celebrate their walk-off win to eliminate the Texas Rangers during the tenth inning to win the American League Division Series in Toronto on Sunday, October 9, 2016. (Mark Blinch/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

MARCUS GEE

The Blue Jays soar – and Toronto shines Add to ...

It’s baseball time in Toronto. After toying with our affections and turning our hair grey with a late-season collapse, then miracle recovery, the Blue Jays are competing for a place in, gosh, the World Series.

There are two reasons to be delighted about this. The first is obvious: It’s just good clean fun. There is nothing quite like the collective thrill of cheering on a big-league sports team in a run for the championship.

A big city can be an anonymous, alienating place, Toronto more than most. This is a city that, as was once said of John Major, the nerdy British prime minister, keeps its shirttail tucked into its underpants. Jan Morris, the great travel writer, remarked with amazement at how Toronto turned newcomers arriving from even the warmest cultures into blank-faced automatons in public.

Despite all the change that has come after decades of mass immigration, you can sometimes feel the lingering chill of stiff, pious old Toronto the Good. In the 21st century, we still have to buy our booze from government depots, for goodness sake.

Here is a chance, then, for Toronto to untuck its shirt. To cheer and moan and fret together. To get goofy for a while.

To paint on a beard like Jose’s. To dress up in a parrot suit in honour of Edwin’s cocked elbow. To don a Superman cape to urge on Kevin and his death-defying catches. To turn that big, antiseptic bowl that is the Rogers Centre into a roaring Roman Colosseum.

The whole city is primed. Toronto remembers the electric night, nearly a quarter-century ago, when Joltin’ Joe jumped his way around the bases like a happy kid after that homer that won the Series.

Could it happen again? The impossibly dramatic, crowd-goes-wild endings of the past two playoffs – Edwin throwing his arms in the air after smacking that ball into the seats to win it; Josh diving into home plate to win again – gave a delicious foretaste of what could be. The city is just dying to flip a bat.

The second reason to be delighted is, well, Toronto. What a city! This is a chance to stand back and marvel at what we have here.

During the past series, the broadcaster cut to a panoramic view of the skyline after dark. It is a stirring sight. Those battalions of glittering towers are proof of this city’s dynamism. Toronto overtook Chicago not long ago to become North America’s fourth-largest city. Its thriving centre is enjoying a historic construction boom. Its humming outer suburbs are magnets for hundreds of thousands of striving newcomers.

Toronto has problems, from overburdened transit to stretched finances, but they are the problems that come with success. The city is showing signs of shaking off the provincial mindset that has held it back for so long. With a dramatic expansion in public transit under way, and plans being hatched for an important new downtown park, built over the railway tracks, of all things, Toronto is at last thinking big.

Being in the spotlight of major-league series is an opportunity to show off a little. Toronto is an amazing place. Its diversity never ceases to astonish. Just ride a Toronto bus and marvel at the human variety. Its cultural life is thriving as never before. Its streets pulse with life.

When a friend showed some out-of-town visitors around recently, they asked if there was some kind of festival going on. No, he said, the sidewalks are usually like that – full of people. The vibrancy of its downtown sets Toronto apart from many American cities.

The baseball stadium is right at the centre of it all. Tens of thousands will pour into it on Monday night to bite their nails and whoop their lungs out. Millions more around the country will be glued to their screens. Cabbies will have it on the car radio. Bars will overflow. A city of strangers will become family.

It’s great to be a part of it. What a team. What a town.

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Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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