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Bunting remains baseball tradition

Bunting remains baseball tradition

A person gets from a symbol the meaning he puts into it.
-- U.S. Supreme Court, 1974

CHICAGO -- There were roughly 350 symbols of World Series tradition here at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday night, and they greeted visitors in a way that was mostly subconscious but unmistakeably baseball and America.

This is a story about bunting, and not about the kind with a bat and a ball. It is about that other kind of bunting, the "spun" polyester stuff that, as any vexillologist or ordinary fan knows, always adorns the most traditional jewel event in major U.S. sports history.

That red, white and blue fabric hangs ceremoniously here from the upper deck, loge and box-seat railings -- one of those things most people probably notice only subconsciously. Vexillology is the scientific study of flag history and symbolism, and Game 1 of the 2005 World Series is a good time to study up on this unique tradition.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica section on flag traditions, "Bunting of the national colors should be used for covering a speaker's desk, for draping over the front of a platform, and for decoration in general. Bunting should be arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below."

They might not be used to conducting a World Series around these parts, but the people at U.S. Cellular Field understand that color protocol. One look around, and you can see that the red is always on bottom.

An amateur vexillologist reached out over the left-field loge level to examine the bunting high atop the field, and affixed was a tag that read: www.valleyforgeflag.com. The Valley Forge Flag Co. is located in Womelsdorf, Pa., and provided this ballpark with what appear to be roughly 350 bunting flags. Each of those is affixed to cement facing with Velcro, with exact spacing between each of them.

Founded by immigrants in 1882, that company remains a family-run business, headed today by the great-grandson of the founder. It is one of many such companies that belong to the Flag Manufacturers Association of America, and its mission statement reads: "The beliefs, values and dreams that the U.S. flag represent are an inalienable part of the American character and psyche." Just like baseball.

Baseball is the national pastime, and flag bunting is another way to reinforce the singular bond between this sport and American history. Think about where bunting has been used elsewhere, and this is obvious. Consider the bunting at presidential debates -- modern ones such as a year ago, or the bunting that adorned bandstands back to Lincoln vs. Douglas and much further beyond. Bunting also is ideal for hanging beneath windows on houses, as an alternative for banner flags.

Bunting has always been there for political and patriotic events since the birth of a nation, and it has always been there for baseball's jewel events. It does not just show up at the World Series, either. Bunting was here for the American League Division Series against Boston, and for the AL Championship Series against the Angels. It was here for Opening Day. And it was on the walls of Comerica Park at Detroit for the last All-Star Game. Protocol dictates that bunting comes out for the "jewel events."

According to the Valley Forge Flag Web site, "spun" polyester is "a special, premium material that holds up well in windy or harsh conditions. Because it is spun, it has the feel of cotton, but its synthetic nature gives it the durability of nylon." Consider the pelting rains here in the Windy City before scheduled gametime, "spun polyester" seemed like a good idea. In case anyone happened to notice.

It is a uniquely American and baseball tradition, just one of those little things that you notice as you look around U.S. Cellular Field on a night when the Fall Classic finally found its way back into this city. Bunting consists only of those stripes in three colors. The only stars in sight were on the field.

Priscilla Hook, a White Sox fan for life whose late father used to sell soft drinks in the stands at old Comiskey Park, peered over the loge railing near the left-field foul pole to feel the sturdy bunting fabric and appreciate what it means to see it at this time of year.

"My dad would have loved seeing all this," she said. "It's so hard to believe we are really having a World Series here. Just look at it, bunting everywhere. This is a dream come true, just to have tickets for this game."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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