Monday, September 1, 2008

Deathtour~!: Rogers Centre, Toronto

First off, yes, I’m a month late with this. Why I couldn’t get to this sooner, I don’t know. But anyway, after the late night game at Fenway I headed to the land of the maple leaf, Mounties, ice hockey and Bret Hart to watch the only remaining Canadian team in Major League baseball. And I haven’t seen Toronto at all so it’s the first time I’ll get to hear O’Canada this season. I’m really excited about that.

The former Skydome, now labeled Rogers Centre, sits in the shadow of the CN Tower near the Toronto waterfront. When it was built, it was considered a state-of-the-art facility. It was the first stadium to have a fully retractable roof, and also is home to a restaurant in centerfield and a hotel, with rooms overlooking the field. Unfortunately a few years later, Camden Yards would open and completely alter people’s perceptions of what a baseball facility should look like.

The first level promenade is more like a basketball or hockey arena than a baseball or football stadium. Maybe it’s the cleaner floors or the way the sound echoes off the walls. It’s not the sound of a park, it’s the sound of an arena. And with the doors to the dome closed the wind moves differently. It’s serene and calm.

Before finding my up to the top level, I took a peak in the team store. My attention was drawn to a wall of caps. From afar I was unable to tell what was on most of them, but based on the sheer volume of hats I assumed they carried the logos of many different teams, which would be unusual for a team store. On closer inspection every hat was a Blue Jays hat. There must have been 50 unique designs. I didn’t think it was possible to have 50 variations on a single logo, but I guess I was wrong.

Once again I’m at a domed stadium without a dome above me. So far, every retractable roof I’ve been to has been opened. Metrodome in Minneapolis is the only indoor game I’ve seen. Later this season Tampa will be inside and Houston has a dome, which is rarely ever opened. It’s a bit disappointing that Seattle, Arizona, Milwaukee and Toronto all had their roofs open.

I just made it to my seat to hear O Canada, literally music to my ears after standing through 20 versions of The Star Spangled Banner, 90% of them awful. AJ Burnett is pitching for Toronto, Scott Shields for Tampa Bay. 80% chance of a pitching duel tonight.

Burnett strikes out the side in the top of the first sparking a roar from the small crowd. Hey! Cliff Floyd is in the lineup for Tampa Bay. I remember him coming up in 1993 as a rising star and quickly fading into obscurity and disappearing from my radar completely about 5 years ago. I’m genuinely stunned he’s still playing.

We’re rolling along here. Burnett has 7 strikeouts through 3 innings but Tampa has a 1-0 lead. Toronto is one of only a few teams that doesn’t have any retired numbers, but unlike the other franchises that were created recently the Blue Jays have been around since the 1970s. Instead, Toronto has what they call “The Level of Excellence” which lists some of the key players they’ve had over the years. I know they have a policy against retiring numbers but I think it’s crazy that someone is still wearing Joe Carter’s number.

Eric Hinske was just picked off first base drawing a huge reaction at the former Blue Jay. I’d have to check, but I think that’s the first successful pickoff I’ve seen. I’m still waiting on a no-hitter and a cycle.

Both starting pitchers have been outstanding but they’re out due to that dreaded pitch count. Matt Stairs, who still comes to the plate to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s theme music, put the Blue Jays ahead on a two-run hit that cleared a wall constructed in the outfield.

I’m perusing the Blue Jays program and came across the absolute funniest thing I’ve ever seen, the player profile for current Toronto Blue Jay and former Giant Jeremy Accardo. The significant text has been highlighted.

BJ Ryan closes out the Rays in the ninth to send the crowd home happy. A family of foreign tourists (and in this case I am also a foreign tourist), getting their first taste of baseball, ask me who won the game. The son seems to have an idea of what’s going on as when I tell them the Blue Jays won he gives his dad the “see, I told you” look.

It is somewhat sad that a stadium built in my lifetime is so completely outdated, which is not to say it’s a bad place to watch a game despite a turf surface, dirt only around the bases, the multi-purpose field, a seating capacity exceeding the demand of the fan base and an upper deck that might possibly be located in upstate New York. It’s a nice location, and the facilities inside the stadium are well kept, but this type of ballpark is quickly reaching extinction. With a retractable roof, there’s no reason not to have natural grass. I’m not sure what you can do about the upper level seating being so far away. Maybe they can tarp off the upper deck entirely and add field level seat while renovating the outfield section.

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