As hard as it might be, the Toronto Blue Jays must keep an eye toward the end of this season. Any good organization is thinking well ahead. The Blue Jays are surely no exception. They are looking to the future as a time for growth and improvement. Part of that includes lots of money and work to update the Rogers Centre. The plans center around the playing surface, but will also look at improving the stadium in general. Will it be enough to create a baseball atmosphere in Toronto?
If you look around baseball, there are some beautiful ballparks. A couple of my favorite ones are PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Safeco Field in Seattle. There are the old classics that have become historic like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. There are picturesque stadiums in Baltimore and some impressive achievements of design in Houston and Arizona. Heck, even New York has managed to keep its fairly attractive design, even if the old “feeling” of Yankee Stadium didn’t move with the team.
Toronto’s Sky Dome was supposed to be the height of design and a ‘one of a kind’ venue that could theoretically house anything. And, it did. But, baseball moved past that. Tradition reigned supreme. That traditional feeling has made places like Fenway Park that much more desirable. There is a sense of baseball when you walk around those grounds. It might not be something that you can put your finger on, but there is a feeling that is unique, historic, welcoming and resonant. You can breathe it in. In Toronto? Not so much.
Toronto Blue Jays
The club will look to dedicate a healthy amount to upgrading the stadium. A while ago, John Lott of the National Post told us that the capital budget is approximately $250M. Now, most of that money is going to go toward the possibility of installing a natural grass field in the dome. Given that the University of Guelph is getting $600K just to research the type of grass required, you can tell this conversion is not going to come cheaply. Before they even get there (in 2018), the club is looking into installing an all dirt infield like they have in Tampa Bay. It’s a start, I guess.
Aside from the glaring need to switch to a field that feels like baseball, there is more to be done. Many fans complain about things like the concession stands and the food/ beverage selection. That is a valid point. When you go and pay a fortune for food, you should be getting something worthwhile. This is just the most obvious area of improvement. The building itself is old. It’s approaching 30 years, folks. For those of us who blew past 30, we know it is all downhill from here. There is guaranteed to be a long list of repairs, etc to be addressed.
And, that is just to get the stadium back up to par. It doesn’t say anything for things that may not be so easy to fix. Think about sitting behind home plate (if you can afford to do so). The view of the action is great. But, look at the backdrop. The walls are unattractive. They tried to dolly them up with scoreboards, but it is really just lipstick on a pig. If you draw your attention higher, you see windows and concrete. The WestJet Flight Deck is the only real improvement, and that is not saying much.
The issue with Rogers Centre is that all of the upgrades in the world are not going to change the fact that the fan’s experience includes lining up on concrete, surrounded by concrete, walking into a concrete building to watch a game played on concrete. The “feeling” of Rogers Centre is decidedly less desirable than other ballparks. The addition of a natural field may actually prove to be create an even more UNnatural experience: a natural field in an unnatural building. the real trick would be to make fans forget they’re in a concrete box with a retractable roof.
None of this is meant to be a heavy criticism of the Toronto Blue Jays or Rogers Centre. Truly. In fact, I have enjoyed my trips to watch my team play. I just hope that the $250M goes a long way to improving the fan’s experience. This is all coming from the point of view of someone who doesn’t get out to many games. Perhaps those who go to 10, 15, 20 per year or more have a different take on this subject. But, from the outside, there is much work to be done to improve the baseball experience in Toronto.