The first roadtrip on my journey started today – north of the border in Toronto. I’ll be visiting 5 parks in 5 days on this swing.
This is my first trip to Toronto and it is long overdue. I’ve been to Montreal over a dozen times in my life and have even attended a few Expos games at Olympic Stadium prior to their exodus down to DC in 2002. Yes, at one time there were two Canadian franchises playing ‘America’s past-time’. The Jays have a good following and have had their share of success in their 38-year history including winning back to back WS titles in ’92 and ’93.
My hotel is in the shadows of the CN tower and a 5-minute walk to Rogers Centre. The park is in a great location and a short walk from a major transportation hub and many nice bars, restaurants and hotels.
Having plenty of time to kill, I set out to explore the city. There’s no shortage of ways to kill time in Toronto as it is the major metropolis of Canada – their version on NYC. There are plenty of nice neighborhoods to explore, each with a distinct vibe. The epicenter of town is Yonge-Dundas Square. (Yonge Street is claimed to be the longest in North America). I’m not a big hockey fan, but Hockey Hall of Fame is worth a visit. The Distillery District and Casa Loma are two other noteworthy attractions.
After my sightseeing, I went back to the hotel, rested up a bit and then walked over to the park about 90 minutes before game time.
There was a modest crowd and no lines to get in. It was a bright and clear day but the temps dropped a bit toward the evening. I would have expected the roof to be open since MLB players and fans have endured a hell of a lot worse – but nope – the roof was closed.
This was my first time experiencing indoor baseball since going to the old Olympic Stadium in Montreal in 1989 and I really felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic for the first few innings. There was absolutely not even a hint of natural light coming in to the park.
When Skydome (as it was originally named) opened in 1989 (back in the Jay’s ‘Heydays’ with McGriff, Bell, Gruber, Steib, etc.) – it was an architectural marvel and a pioneer among sporting venues. It was the first venue to have a retractable roof – offering the best of both worlds – outdoor baseball in nice weather and never any chance of rainout or freezing temps early in the year. They were also the first with a giant video scoreboard, sit-down and be served restaurant and, maybe the coolest feature of them all, it was directly attached to the Renaissance Hotel with a number of rooms directly facing the playing field so you can watch the on field action from your room.
But since then, 22 newer stadiums have opened and Rogers Center (as it was renamed in 2005) is now the 7th oldest park in MLB and really starting to show its age. There’s really no distinguishing feature like many of the other parks have and really not a lot of the team’s history on display.
There was a pretty sparse crowd (in all fairness, it was a Thursday getaway game against the Angels) and really no enthusiasm nor any attempt from the PA announcer to solicit any. On the plus side, I could have easily moved seats and there were no lines for concessions or bathroom.
The Blue Jays play their own, unique song “Okay Blue Jays,” which has been a revered staple at Jays games for years. The mascot, Ace, does his thing and the “J-Crew” cheer/promo team make the promos happen.
The stadium location is great. A really short walk from downtown hotels and restaurants (Wayne Gretzky’s , The Over Draught Irish Pub , etc.) and just few short blocks from Toronto’s largest transportation hub (yes, even bigger than the airport) Union Station. The official street address is 1 Blue Jays Way (maybe a nod to the Beatles song?)
As for the game, the Angels jumped out to an early 1-0 lead , but it was all Jays after that as they went out in front 3-1 when Edwin Encarnacion blew it open in the bottom of the 5th with a 3 run shot making it 6-1. Jay’s starter (and former Met Cy Young award winner) RA Dickey befuddled the Angels hitters with his knuckleball and went the distance picking up the victory and striking out 7 along the way.
After the game, the city was still pretty lively for a Thursday night. After a nightcap or 2, I headed back to the hotel to get some rest before an early morning flight to Detroit.
Fans – C – Sparse crowd. Lethargic. Although I have no doubt that they have been enthusiastic in the past when they had a better product on the field and were playing in more meaningful games
Features – D – Drab. No natural light. No artifacts of team history. The hotel attached to the OF is still kind of cool. Would have been an A or A+ when it first opened up just for the roof alone
Location – A – Right in downtown near everything. Would have had a great view of the CN tower if the roof were opened
Food – C – Poutine is nice. So is Labatt 50. Everything else was just pretty ordinary
Game – D – Nice outing by former Met Cy Young winner RA Dickey. Kind of dull otherwise
Overall Experience – C – Toronto is a fun an interesting town. Game experience was a bit disappointing.