The best fans in baseball finally got to meet the best team in baseball.
The Toronto Blue Jays returned home to bask in the adulation of hundreds of thousands of fans Monday. Together, they celebrated the team's first World Series win.More than 45,000 people jammed the Dome to watch Saturday's final game on the huge television screen, and nearly 500,000 people danced and celebrated in the streets after the Jays beat the Atlanta Braves 4-3 in 11 innings.
But the celebration Monday was even larger. People began lining up Sunday night for a seat inside the SkyDome, which was filled with nearly 50,000 screaming fans long before the parade made its way inside.
Fans 20 or 30 deep lined the entire parade route, which started in front of the Royal York hotel and wound through a few blocks downtown before turning into the SkyDome. Most fans were waving either tiny Canadian flags or Blue Jays pennants and homemade signs.
Players were paired on the back seat of convertibles. Many were accompanied by wives, children and girlfriends for the ride through the adoring crowd.
"This is unbelievable," third baseman Kelly Gruber said. "This is so good. I can't imagine anything like it, maybe being a veteran coming back from a war."
Some players performed the "chop" mocking the Braves. Manager Cito Gaston waved a small Canadian flag and listened to fans chant his name all the way along the route. Many players brought along still and video cameras to record the parade.
Inside the Dome, radio broadcasters Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth introduced local politicians and team officials before the players spoke.
Second baseman Roberto Alomar hoisted a foam tomahawk and started Atlanta's war chant. Reserve catcher Mike Maksudian pledged to get a second tattoo, to match his AL pennant tattoo.
And nearly every player thanked the fans. The Blue Jays drew more than 4 million fans for the second straight year, setting another record.
"Canada not only has the best team in the world, we have the best fans in the world," said pitcher Todd Stottlemyre.
Other players thanked the organization.
"It was like I was hitchhiking on the side of the road and got a ride to the World Series," said pitcher David Cone, a late-season acquisition from the Mets. "We still feel the pride of Canada. We see the flags. We don't need to be Canadian to feel the pride of Canada. "
"I want to thank the Toronto organization, because if it wasn't for them, I'd still be in Cleveland," said outfielder Turner Ward.
Veteran pitcher Jimmy Key offered a near apology on behalf of the team, which has been contenders since 1983, with the best record in baseball over the last 11 years.
"We finally did it. We're sorry we took so long, but here it is," Key said of the Commissioner's Trophy.
Gaston appeared near tears as he thanked players for their contributions.
Dave Winfield, who sparked fans with a mid-season plea for more noise, was the final speaker and keyed the release of the championship banner, which was accompanied by fireworks and a long standing ovation.
The parade and celebration were televised nationally. Some analysts have suggested the team's World Series triumph would help unite the fractured country, which voted Monday on a new package of constitutional reform.