Jays From the Couch writer explores the Rogers Centre and the idea of updating and improving the venue
As I sat and watched the Jays/Tigers series recently I couldn’t help but compare the new Tiger Stadium to the Blue Jays’ current nest. I remember when, at that time, Skydome first opened and it was the talk of the league. It was just before the era of intimate baseball parks with fan experience as the first priority began to be of full importance. I believe Jacobs Field in Cleveland was the first of those type of parks, but I didn’t do my research on that point. San Francisco was an early one as well.
Skydome was also right at the end of the era of the multi-purpose stadium. Designed to hold anything from football, to baseball, to concerts, and in Toronto’s case–the NBA until the Air Canada Centre was complete. It looked state-of-the-art in comparison to the other multi-purpose yards like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston, Seattle and St. Louis with the Jumbotron, Windows restaurant, and the integrated hotel. These stadiums have all been replaced since, and are the talk of the league truthfully.
Seattle has a great atmosphere, tons of areas for watching the game or just hanging out, and the food is #1 in the league. Pittsburgh, if you have watched a game on television there, the skyline in behind with the foot bridge from downtown is gorgeous. Cincinnati and Philadelphia both being unique, functional and a local hot spot at the same time while Houston was designed to protect the fans from the Texas heat, host an amazing ballgame and be an entertainment complex for the Houston area. The Rangers are also currently planning a similar set up, with a plaza for concerts, mall and even more fan interaction space to simply hangout for the borderline baseball fans. I almost forgot about Minnesota, they have upped their game in both football and baseball as the Metrodome was horrible. Comparable to Tampa Bay now, I believe as a spot where a baseball game should not even be held. Now Target Field boasts amazing food, a shopping complex, nightlife area, and plazas, along with an art gallery feel featuring mosaics and more.
Now, let us look at Toronto. The cuisine has been ranked dead last in the league, and although I have seen articles of promise for improvement, they will have to do a lot to improve. Toronto itself is not known as a place you go for great food. In comparison to MLB cities like Seattle, who outside the park, likely has the best food in the league. Inside it is no different. In Texas and St. Louis, the BBQ is center point and Philadelphia they likely have a great cheese steak. But in Toronto, I recall when it first opened the concessions were run by MacDonald’s of all things, and although I thought they made a pretty good pizza for fast food, even then there was a lot left to be desired.
What the City of Toronto does have going for it is diversity, there are so many cool areas of Toronto that have such a variety of food. With one of the best Chinatown’s in North America, Little Italy, great Indian and Jewish food as well there is no reason they could not integrate that diversity into the stadium. Sure there is no better tradition than a ballpark hotdog…but some butter chicken fries, dumplings on a stick, meatball marinara sandwiches or bagel bites or some traditional dishes would go along way to create variety and showcase diversity. They could even decorate with murals of each city centre to make the concession areas feel like the different regions of the city. Adding a Fashion District, Waterfront and Docks areas to mirror the outside environment would go along way for the “tourist” fans as well. Walking around Rogers Centre, it looks like concrete, other stadiums feel like the city they are in.
But what would be the “new stadium features”?
Like I listed above, the areas of the city and its diversity would be paramount. It is a city that has been grown on industry and those from around the world have flocked their to start a new life. What a better atmosphere for baseball in a city that has as much of a blue collar history as places like Pittsburgh and Detroit.
But let’s talk about building the perfect stadium here. What could examples from the rest of the league offer to make Toronto a better place so to speak:
First things first, we have to scrap the turf. Minnesota is further North than us and in a much colder area of the continent and they have grass, Denver, Detroit as well, and also Chicago (squared even). But taking a page from the Dodgers playbook in that department would go a long way. Their turf is number one in the league easily and it would be an honor to play on it daily.
The Skydome roof is likely on its last legs, and although it was ahead of its time it is certainly not now. Roofs like Houston, Seattle, Milwaukee and soon to be Texas have similar structures with different uses. Texas and Minute Maid in Houston to keep out the sun; Miller Park for snow mainly; and Safeco for heavy rainfall. Either would work just fine here all have great designs. Although, if we add lighting into that conversation, Houston would have it. Some players even say the LEDs are too bright. I am sure Skydome’s roof was created for snow load but a piece of ice fell through it. Doesn’t hold a lot of confidence with me.
Looking to the view around the park… obviously Rogers Centre does not have one due to the architecture. Speaking of Detroit though, look to the outfield and you will see the nicer buildings of the downtown core in the skyline outside the stadium. We all know Detroit has a history of being rundown but they have been making improvements and the stadium is a nationally televised display of that. Toronto is no different, if their home stayed in the waterfront area of the city…which it should. It is central to Union Station and, Steamwhistle Brewery/historic Roundhouse and the Convention Center and Air Canada Centre are easy to get to. Plus, the view North from that area is all huge, tall buildings and the CN tower as well. This should not change, if you were on the north end, you might see the airport, but the skyline would be lost…the current Skydome area is still the area of the city to be in.
From a play ability perspective, I like the design in Toronto, the short corners and deep center makes it a hitters park,known for lot of Home Runs…that should not change. If anything, a high porch in one of the corners with a standing beer garden type plaza like Seattle (among other parks) might offer some excitement, and real grass (although maybe not realistic in this climate) would be a great idea as that is how the league seems to be going.
What if there was no stadium build?
Would the Blue Jays, or the fans in Toronto have to fear a team relocation if that did not happen. Although relocation is more commonplace in the NFL when there is no stadium build, it is something we have already seen in Montreal. If the same happened in Toronto (which is unlikely) it would be devastating, not only to Toronto, but possibly to all of Canada. Speaking of NFL, they will likely never come here with the current stadium, in reality, so a new ballpark may pave the way for a new NFL stadium. It would be one of the larger markets in both leagues and don’t believe either league should truly pass up the chance to be in Toronto.
It is not just the age of the stadium, sure we are approaching 30 years in age but we have all seen stadiums like Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway in Boston and until recently both the New York Yards and Los Angeles stand the test of time. They all had one thing Toronto seems to lack, atmosphere. A game in Toronto is not exciting from a fans point of view. Many do not take ownership and rely on the teams win/loss record to be their motivator.
Boston, Dodger and Cub fans are baseball educated, traditional, historic and will be the same whether they are up 9-0 or down 0-9…loud and patriotic to their team. They throw home run balls back, they razz the opposition but they will also applaud an opposing teams amazing performance. They may be looked at as obnoxious sometimes, but they know the game and respect the game. The other previously mentioned cities, baseball in their park is a lifestyle, a right of passage if you will. They treat it as “their” stadium and will be sure to let you know it. In Toronto, fans can be looked at as lethargic, quiet, and treat a game like…well, a game. It is not like Toronto does not have great fans, but Leafs games are the same way. FC and Raptors games on the other hand are lively, loud, boisterous and seem to have a personality of their own.
The future of baseball is tradition, atmosphere, food, and fan experience. They are trying hard, but a ballgame is still 3 hours long. Many MLB stadiums know this and are creating a place where the fans can get up from their seats, go get a beer, message their friends on Facebook on a meeting place then make their way back to their seats after some great local cuisine. Travelers make a point to go to Safeco in Seattle or Fenway in Boston, those parks are an extension of their cities and people will go there if not even ball fans, just for the pre and post game festivities. The Blue Jays are Canada’s Team, it is time to make Toronto…Canada’s ballpark. BW
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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