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SkyDome (Rogers Centre)

Toronto, ON
Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays
July 25, 2003


By Ken Schlapp

Once again, I headed off to a new land.  Still within Canada, but my 6-hour drive took me from French-speaking Quebec to English speaking Ontario, which is almost like a different country.  Quebec, specifically Montreal, truly does give you a European feel to it, while Toronto feels like you are still in the United States, but make sure you do not tell a Canadian person that.  They may get offended.  Regardless of any of those differences, I was looking forward to this game.  Before I was completely entrenched in rooting for the enemy (Red Sox) of my enemy (Yankees), I rooted for the Blue Jays as my American League team.  I even had a bunch of Blue Jays shirts.  My rooting interest began early in 1977 when I got my first few packs of 1977 Topps baseball cards and noticed cards of some new team called the Blue Jays, which confused me at first, but then my brother Steve explained to me that there were two new teams.  Considering I am an ardent fan of the underdog, which the Blue Jays were for many years, it was easy to root for them.  It was nothing like the feeling I had when the Mets won in 1986, but I was definitely happy to see Dave Winfield knock in the winning run against the Braves in the 1992 World Series and again when Joe Carter won the 1993 World Series with that dramatic home run.

My initial target in Toronto was the SkyDome, but not just for baseball.  My goal was to sleep in the stadium, or in the Renaissance Hotel, that is actually part of the stadium.  I had booked a room here in advance, because I just had to stay here under the circumstances of my trip, but not a room with a view of the field.  When I was checking in, I told them that I was there to write an article about the SkyDome and asked if they could upgrade my room to one with a field view.  However, even though I showed them my credentials from AAA (which was a letter indicating my task), they would not upgrade me without a substantial increase in my room rate.  At $153 per night (Canadian), I was already paying much more to stay here than at any other place on the trip, so I was not about to pay any more for the room.  I am still happy I was able to stay there anyway.  At least, I will not have the opportunity to embarrass myself in front of the glass windows to my room.  There have been a few instances where people were seen in their rooms (during games) doing things they may or may not have wanted others in the stadium to see. 

As they say “when in Rome…”, so I figured, I would take more advantage of my place of lodging by heading to Diamonds (not becoming infamous in front of a window!), the hotel restaurant, for lunch.  Here I was able to watch the Blue Jays practice on the field from my table.  Diamonds was located in center field with a full view of the field from behind a glass.  I thought this was pretty cool, even though I was staring at an AstroTurf field in a dome, but at least the dome was open today.  It takes 20 minutes to fully open or close the roof.  To throw a bit of history in, this is the first stadium in which they successfully built a retractable roof.  As I indicated in my last article, they attempted to build a retractable roof for Olympic Stadium in Montreal, but that was a complete failure.

Aside, from enjoying watching the Jays practice, the view from the restaurant was good enough for me to start making some stadium observations.  The all blue seats are the first thing that stood out to me, which fits the team name and colors.  It also fits the color scheme of the SkyDome’s other tenant, the Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.  They have played here as long as the Blue Jays have, which is since 1989, when it opened.  The Blue Jays and Argonauts both played at Exhibition Stadium up until 1988.  The Toronto Raptors even played NBA games here for their first few seasons before the Air Canada Center was completed.  Back to the unique view of the half-open dome from the restaurant, which is not something you see every day.  I also noticed the retired number 37 with Dave Steib’s name attached to it on the upper deck façade, next to Pat Gillick, their long-time general Manager.  Those are clearly the two names I associate with the Blue Jays more than anyone else.

Once I was done with lunch, I headed out to take my walk around the stadium (which is on Blue Jay Way), which is not like any other stadium.  The SkyDome was built around the CN Tower and over train tracks leading to Union Station, so it is pretty much intertwined with the neighborhood.  When you head towards the dome from the main part of the city, you notice the CN Tower and the hotel, but really cannot tell that there is a baseball stadium there without knowing precisely to look for it.  However, if you get the chance to go up to the observation decks of the CN Tower, you do get an amazing view of the SkyDome from far above.  When walking around the stadium, you have to go down (or up depending on your direction) many stairs to get to some of the gates.  This does have the benefit of allowing you to walk into the stadium at the level of your seats, which is similar to Dodger Stadium, even though they are nothing alike in any other way.  Then I found the best feature of the SkyDome above the entrance of gate 5.  This is where the artwork titled “The Audience”, which is a bunch of exaggerated fans watching a game, making faces, drinking, and doing all the things that fans do at events.

When it was time to head into the SkyDome, I had to buy a ticket first because this was one of the very few places I was not able to get a complimentary ticket for the game.  I was able to contact Chris Bilton of the ticket office prior to my trip, but when he called me back, he said he wished he could join me on my trip, but his boss would not let him comp me a ticket.  I have made out pretty well on this trip so far, but Toronto was becoming expensive.  I ended up buying a ticket behind home plate for $44.81 Canadian, and headed in for more of my rituals.  As soon as I walked in, I noticed signs and promotions for “Baseball North” all over the place, including displays of current Blue Jays players.  In fact, the credit card giveaway was a Blue Jays Baseball North T-Shirt.  My only problem was that I could not get one, because I was not a Canadian citizen nor did I have a temporary Canadian residence to allow me to apply for one.  I could not persuade them to give me a shirt without the application I was not allowed to apply for.  Next up, was to buy a souvenir soda cup, but guess what, they did not have those here either.  I had to resort to buying a mug and a baseball north shirt in the team store, so I had to pay for everything here, which makes me sound spoiled and the great luck I have had to this point clearly did spoil me, but did not take away from my enjoyment at the SkyDome.

I continued walking around the concourses, which are wide open which makes it easy to get to the many concession stands (to buy standard stadium food or even sushi) and back to your seats without having to fight through a crowd.  Moving on to the upper level concourses, there was a spot where you get a good view of Lake Ontario, which is definitely worth the walk up to for.

After my walk around, I had plenty of time to sit in my seat and take a look at the Dome from behind the plate.  From that angle, the two flags by the dead center field roof for the United States and Canada stand out.  Their championship banners are in between the them, which gives it a unique balancing effect.  All of the flags and banners are also directly above the suites and large jumbotron.  The Argonauts banners and retired numbers are outside of the flags on both sides on the upper façade of the Dome.  From this angle, I also realized that Steib was not the only retired number.  To the left of the Jumbotron are the retired numbers of Tony Fernandez (1), George Bell (11), Joe Carter (29) and Cito Gaston (46).  It is very impressive that a team with such a short history has actually had five players and one General Manager worthy of such honors.  The bullpens are located in opposing outfield gaps, which brings up a theme that I have noticed with all of these stadium highlights, which is how symmetrical the SkyDome is.  In fact, it is exactly 100 meters (328 feet) down both lines (leading up to the foul “nets” not “poles”), 114 meters (375 feet) in both gaps and 122 meters (400 feet) to center field.  Yes, the measurements are in meters because Canada has embraced the metric system in the whole country and not just French-speaking Quebec.

Like in Montreal, both national anthems were played, but this time “Oh Canada” was performed entirely in English.  Although most things are written in French and English here, the French language is not generally embraced.  The music played after the anthems was mostly via the organ, which gives a bit of the old baseball feel in this modern stadium. 

The game got off to a slow start.  Orioles pitcher, Jason Johnson, held the Blue Jays scoreless for the first 2 innings, but was topped by Blue Jays starting pitcher Corey Lidle, who shut down the Orioles for 3 innings.  The Blue Jays finally struck first in the bottom of the 3rd.  Mike Bordick led off the inning with a walk, moved up to 2nd on Erick Hinske’s single, and scored along with Hinske on Carlos Delgado’s monstrous homer to put the Jays up 3-0.  This also set off the stadium fireworks and had the two blue jays bird mascots going crazy.  The tiny crowd was excited too.  Unfortunately, the Blue Jays have not drawn the big crowds since the 1994-1995 strike.  The days of 4 million annual attendances appear to be gone.

The Orioles began to make a game of it in the 4th when Brian Roberts singled and stole second in front of a Melvin Mora walk.  I apologize, but this is where I have to pause and let out my disgust that the Mets traded Melvin Mora to the Orioles for Mike Bordick during the 2000 pennant drive.  After Bordick hit a home run in his first at bat as a Met, it was all downhill from there.  He was awful in the playoffs and World Series against the hated Yankees, while Mora has turned out to be a very good player.  Anyway, Jay Gibbons doubled to knock in Bordick with the O’s first run.  The O’s added another run in the 5th on singles by David Segui and Brooks Fordyce and an RBI ground out by Roberts.  The inning and the Orioles threat ended when Luis Matos was called out for interfering with Blue Jays Catcher Greg Myers attempting to throw out Robert stealing second.  Despite the abrupt end to the inning, the Orioles made this a one-run game.  They threatened again in the 6th, but had the inning thwarted on the bases again when Jeff Conine was thrown out at third trying to take the extra base on Tony Batista’s 2-out single.  They finally tied it up in the top of the 7th on a Deivi Cruz double and a Fordyce RBI single.

The 7th inning stretch brought the traditional single of take me out to the ballgame, but it was followed by the Blue Jays’ “Okay Blue Jays” song, which I never heard before.  I would also like to point out that they did have an interesting rolling out-of-town scoreboard that showed the score for all innings and included all of the Blue Jays minor league clubs.  In this game, the bottom half of the 7th inning is where the real excitement occurred when the Blue Jays came to bat.  Frank Catalanotto started things off with a walk, but was pinch-ran for by Reed Johnson, who quickly swiped second, moved to 3rd on a wild pitch by Jason Johnson and finally scored when center fielder Luis Matos threw the ball away after catching Vernan Wells fly ball.  This also knocked Jason Johnson out of the game (he would end up giving up 5 runs, 4 earned, in 6 and 2/3 innings while giving up 7 hits, 4 walks and striking out 6).  Delgado knocked in the 5th and final run of the game for the Blue Jays with a single off BJ Ryan to give the Jays a 5-3 lead.  Delgado had a big night going 3-4 with a homer and 4 RBI.

After Cliffe Politte retired the first Orioles in the 8th, Trevor Miller came in and struck out the last 4 Oriole batters to preserve the win for Corey Lidle (7 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 3 K, 3 BB) and more importantly free Pizza for the crowd at Pizza Pizza, by striking out David Segui.  When the Jays strikeout 7 batters, the fans get free pizza.  I think this was the loudest I heard the crowd all game.  This was when I noticed the Pizza Pizza K Korner in right center field.  The Orioles even participated in a unique strikeout feat of their own in the 8th inning too.  The last three Blue Jays also struck out.  The interesting catch was that it took three pitchers to do it: Hector Carrasco, Buddy Groom, and Kerry Lightenberg.

Bottom line – It ended up being a good game and the Blue Jays won, which made me happy to actually see a team I was rooting for win a game. Despite the fact that this is an Astroturf Stadium with a roof, I like it anyway.  For one, the roof was open, and the game was exciting, so the turf did not stand out as much.  My only real disappointment was the small crowd.  I have been back here many times since, and still think it is a nice place to see a game.

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium # 27
-Old Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 18)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 2)
-Miles traveled – 354 via Car (Totals: Driving – 16,483, Subway - 20, Air - 3,196, Total – 19,599)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – Quebec, Ontario (Totals: States – 47, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Aisle 121, Row 15, Seat 11 – 100 Level behind Home Plate
-Prices: Parking – $18 (in hotel), Beer – 6.50, Hot Dogs - $3.50, Program (including pencil) - $5.00, Souvenir Soda Cup – None
-Credit Card giveaway –  None
-First Pitch -  7:06 PM
-Attendance – 17,095
-Results – Blue Jays 5, Orioles 3, W – Cory Lidle, L – Jason Johnson, S – Trevor Miller
-Home team record to date – 16 wins, 14 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 13 wins, 17 losses
-Lodging – Toronto, Ontario

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