Over the weekend starting May 17, 2012, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I made the three posts a series called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey. Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.
Despite winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays are a bit of a cursed franchise. They have three big issues, two of which are that they’re in Canada, and that they’re in the American League East. Canada’s national pasttime isn’t baseball; it’s hockey. Any baseball team in Canada has to be at least as good as the worst hockey franchise in the area, or there’s not much interest. The Montreal Expos, for example, had too many losing seasons and were forced to move. The Blue Jays have been playing well for the last few years and have won two more World Series than the Expos did, not to mention a few pennants and division titles, so they’ve been able to stave off attrition. But their task seemingly gets continually harder, as they’re in the same division as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and recently, the Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles. There’s not a weak team in the division, but someone has to lose, and the Jays, who haven’t made the playoffs since 1993, have just as much a shot to win the hotly-contested division as to lose it.
The Blue Jays' third problem is their stadium. The SkyDome was completed in 1989, and despite being only twenty-three years old, is the seventh-oldest active stadium in baseball. Of the stadiums that are older: Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are classics; Anaheim Stadium and Kauffman Stadium have aged well; the Athletics have been trying to relocate from Oakland Coliseum for years. The SkyDome (now called the Rogers Centre) is in that unlucky middle area between outdated and in need of replacement. As a twenty-three year old stadium, the Rogers Centre will probably not be replaced for many years, but because it was completed just before Camden Yards started the ballpark renaissance, the stadium looks and feels dated.
We arrived in Toronto with plenty of time, but because of the congestion around the park and our difficulty in finding a place to park, barely made it to our seats in time for first pitch. A pleasant side-effect of the stadium being indoors is that the ramps to the upper deck were pleasantly cool, but once we were up to the concourse I immediately wished some windows were open. The concourse was narrow and felt a little claustrophobic.
The view from our seats was pretty good, although I should mention that they weren’t cheap. Two days before we had sat in the lower deck at Progressive Field for $15 a seat; at the Rogers Centre, seats in the upper deck at about the same position on the field were going for about $38 USD. These are teams that finished in the same place in their division a year ago. All of the seats in the upper deck had a railing in front of them because the upper deck was so steep, which didn’t really annoy me but might annoy shorter people or younger kids.
The turf basepaths (and for that matter, the entire turf field) looked jarring, and I don’t know that I ever got used to it. After being really popular with the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 60s, 70s and 80s, baseball has seen a tremendous decline in turf fields, a development I’m a huge fan of. Practically speaking, turf baseball is almost a different game, and aesthetically speaking, there’s not much prettier than green, grassy outfield in the setting sun. Sadly, my guess is that replacing the turf field would be really hard to do cost-effectively, so Toronto is probably stuck with a turf field for a long time.
One thing I hadn’t realized from watching the Indians play in Toronto all these years is that the CN Tower is not only visible from the stadium, but it’s pretty close too. Unfortunately, again a factor of being an indoor stadium, it’s not really a factor in the stadium scenery like the Pittsburgh skyline fits in to PNC Park or the hills of Kentucky fit in to the background of the Great American Ballpark. Had the SkyDome been built a couple years later, there’s no doubt that the designers would have tried to include the CN Tower more prominently.
For the second straight day, the home team pitcher threw a complete game shutout, only this one didn’t have the theatrics of a no-hitter bid going into the ninth inning. I won’t speak for all Blue Jays fans, but the ones around us didn’t, uh, have their minds on the game, but a 2-0 shutout isn’t the most casual fan-friendly baseball game anyway.
Walking around the stadium provided some nice views, and it was nice that, again, being indoors, most of the lower level was in the shade. There were a lot of food options, but I didn’t see a whole lot of uniqueness. Like the stadium and the era it was built in, the concourses and food selection seemed cookie-cutter, and the prices weren’t reasonable.
Can I say I was glad I went to the Rogers Centre? My goal is to visit every ballpark, and so visiting the Rogers Centre allows me to add another hat to my collection and cross another park off my list. But some parks, like Target Field or Comerica Park or PNC Park, were so nice that I’d love to go back again. I can’t say I have that feeling about the Rogers Centre. When you’re in a great ballpark, you feel a connection to the team, the city and the stadium. At the Rogers Centre, I felt like I was in a basketball arena. I hope, for the sake of the Toronto die-hards, that Toronto gets a new baseball facility soon. But unfortunately, my guess is that the Rogers Centre isn’t going anywhere fast.
All my photos from this game are available here.