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Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Drew Hutchison works against the Tampa Bay Rays during first inning AL baseball action in Toronto on Monday, May 26, 2014. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Drew Hutchison works against the Tampa Bay Rays during first inning AL baseball action in Toronto on Monday, May 26, 2014. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Cathal Kelly

Baseball players wearing camouflage? Make sports, not war Add to ...

Years ago, during one of his many wide-ranging lockerside chats, someone asked then-Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun what he would’ve done for a living if he hadn’t become a ballplayer.

“Marine sniper,” Zaun said, with jarring specificity.

Then he branched off into a learned disquisition on rifles and their killing capacity. A couple of minutes in, the guys around his locker were starting to shift from foot to foot in discomfort.

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We’re Canadians. We’d rather have a frank public discussion about our sex lives than firearms.

While we’re alike, we are vastly different in this way. Every American I’ve ever known is much more at ease in the martial environment. Or maybe just used to being around people who are. Recent history suggests they’d be better off following our lead in this regard.

Nonetheless, here we are at the ballpark on a lovely Monday evening in May and Canada’s team is wearing camouflage ballcaps and camo-detailed jerseys. Just like every other team in baseball on America’s Memorial Day – except that this one isn’t like every other team in baseball. It’s in another country.

Though we’ve grown immune to it, especially since 2001, it continues to rankle in this corner. Why are we paying fealty to a neighbour? And especially in this way?

We are the United States’ global partner, not its kid brother.

Every time Canada does one of these overreaching, ‘Please like us’ efforts on the U.S., I am reminded of Homer Simpson’s rationale for not wanting to travel here on vacation: “Why should we leave America to visit America Jr.?”

They would not have a big to-do over a U.S. holiday in, say, France. Let’s try to be more like France.

There is the disorienting sense of rah-rah about the whole thing. It’s a celebration, which seems the wrong tone if what we are doing is honouring those who have been harmed or risked harm on our behalf.

In U.S. arenas, they’ve been slowly phasing out the military trappings. The paying public can apparently tolerate only so many patriotic ballads and fly-overs.

One thing they still do regularly is focus in on one veteran during a break in play, name him or her, and allow the crowd to react as it will. In every instance, it’s a rousing and respectful ovation. That is a heartening and specific act. It’s not an endorsement of an institution or an idea, but of a single person. I’m always about as cynical as it comes, but it gives me chills every time.

Seeing your heroes running around in camo is neither heartening nor instructive. It’s toying with politics. Cheering in that environment is a mandate of the hive mind, because are you going to be the one guy who sits on his hands while everyone is standing? No matter how good the intention, it’s coercive and arbitrary.

When you don the trappings of war in an environment that has nothing to do with real battle, you are play-acting. I’m not sure what the sight of 17 Americans, five Dominicans, a Venezuelan and an Australian wearing the distinctive camo of the Canadian military is supposed to mean to Canadians. The only guy who makes any sense is Brett Lawrie.

I’m also trying to imagine Carlos Delgado – who famously sat during God Bless America as an act of protest – going along with this. When in doubt, err on the side of Delgado.

That was serious. This is not.

When you’re traipsing around a ball field in a simulation of battledress, you’re making the whole thing seem like fun. I doubt anybody who’s been through it feels that way.

If you’ve never served, you shouldn’t wear the uniform, or any iteration of it. That seems like a pretty good idea we’ve all forgotten.

This stands markedly apart from wearing the poppy. That’s a form of remembrance and, on an intrinsic level, an anti-war statement. Though the poem urges the living to fight on, its mournful air of sacrifice overwhelms any suggestion of jingoism.

Because it’s hard for me to wrap around the point if that’s not the bottom-line suggestion here – that war is bad.

We have a standing army to dissuade other people from fighting us, either here or abroad. We only start killing as a last resort.

We don’t celebrate that idea. It doesn’t involve a jumbo popcorn and shout-outs from the scoreboard. It’s something that has to be done. It is a sombre duty undertaken by a few.

I’d prefer we treat the solemnity of that idea with the respect it deserves, which is to say, leave it outside the playground.

Follow on Twitter: @cathalkelly

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