Take Me Out to the Toronto Ballgame
By Jim Byers.
One of the joys of a downtown baseball stadium in Toronto is the shared experience leading up to a game. On days the Blue Jays are in town, you’ll see boys and girls with their moms or dads or grandparents heading to the ballpark on Toronto’s extensive transit network. The kids might have a ball glove in hand and almost certainly have a blue and white Jays cap as they ride the streetcar or subway in anticipation of a day at the ballpark.
View the Blue Jays 2017 schedule.
As subway trains arrive at the city’s hub, Union Station, the stairs and walkways are a sea of blue and white. The Blue Jays home stadium, known as Rogers Centre, is just a 10-minute walk from Union Station and immediately south of the city’s Entertainment District, an area rich with fun bars and restaurants that barely existed prior to the arrival of the ball yard.
View the Blue Jays team roster.
When what was first known as the SkyDome (because of its open-and-shut, peek-a-boo roof) was first planned, some wanted a suburban stadium surrounded by parking lots to allow tail-gating. Others, thankfully, pushed for a downtown location to create a stronger central core and stimulate demand for more of those bars and restaurants and chic hotels we now see.
As crowds spill out of Union Station or the King or Queen streetcars or the regional GO Train, the buzz starts to build. There’s almost always a fantastic drummer pounding a great beat on his skins down near the south edge of the stadium, known the past few years as the Rogers Centre. You’ll also find colourful hawkers selling shirts and caps and collectibles in the area.
On the north edge of the stadium near the city’s convention centre, look for Toronto’s famous French fry trucks. Actually, you don’t need to look for them, as the aroma of frying potatoes wafts through the air like some kind of Pied Piper call to the senses. Not to mention the aroma of hot dogs barbecuing on the dozens of sausage stands that are set up on city streets all around the ballpark. You can save a bit of money and enjoy an arguably better dog from one of the street vendors, then piling on the mustard, ketchup, onions, pickles, corn relish and other condiments they have on offer.
The SkyDome was considered something of a forerunner of stadiums to come when it was built as a combined baseball and football facility with a dome that spins open to allow the sunshine in. In fact, most teams have now moved to smaller, baseball only stadiums such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the celebrated AT&T Park in San Francisco, home of the San Francisco Giants.
The Rogers Centre/SkyDome can be a bit cavernous when the crowds aren’t showing up. But when the summer weather arrives and the team is playing well and the sun is pouring in on one of those 25C or 30C days, the place gets a definite buzz. The CN Tower and downtown condos sparkle overhead, the noise builds and the beer flows freely.
Canadians have become more vocal at their sporting events of late, and you’ll often find a pretty rowdy group of baseball fans out in the bleachers. Visiting players often get an earful from fans who may or may not have indulged in too many adult beverages.
Folks who didn’t grab a hot dog outside have a ton of food options inside the park. There’s a new head chef at the park, a Peruvian who also is a former tae kwon do champion and a Top Chef Canada contestant. There’s also new, more attractive and player-friendly artificial turf. Ultimately, perhaps in a few years, the Blue Jays hope to have real grass on the field.
The best news of all is that the weather doesn’t matter. Even if you arrive on one of those occasionally cool days in April or early May, there’s always the luxury of leaving the lid on the place and keeping fans comfortable. That’s not something they can do in New York or Chicago.