As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been to several ballparks in this past year. Last summer I went to Detroit’s Comerica Park, while this July I went to New York City’s New Yankee Stadium and Citifield.
However, I had never considered reviewing the Rogers Centre, the ballpark in my hometown Toronto. Not because it’s unworthy, but because I was worried that I would be too hard on a stadium that has become a scapegoat for the attendance woes of the Toronto Blue Jays as well as the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts.
But on Tuesday night I returned to the former SkyDome after a month without attending a Jays home game and I realized, hey, this isn’t so bad.
First of all, I was buoyed by the recent ESPN study that found the Rogers Centre to be one of the cleanest stadiums in all of professional sports, a small club that includes the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. There are only nine other venues that have spotless health records.
Also, after my 45 minute subway ride to Citifield in Queens, New York, I have found a new appreciation for the downtown location of the Rogers Centre. It’s a five minute walk through a dedicated passage from Union Station, giving the ballpark access to the Toronto Transit Commission and the provincial GO Trains.
The neighbourhood is ideal for out-of-towners hoping to kill some time before the opening pitch. Right beside the ballpark is the CN Tower, the second tallest structure in the world. Across the street is the Steam Whistle Brewery that serves one free sample beer to any visitor over the age of 19 and also has a variety of antique train engines.
Although it lacks the charm of the newer retro-styled parks like Citifield, Comerica and New Yankee Stadium, the Rogers Centre has all the same amenities with large and conveniently placed washrooms that are easier to find than the facilities at the American stadiums.
Of course, the former SkyDome’s big draw is its roof. Although it seems like a quaint 1980s concept, the retractable dome remains practical in a city that can have snow in April. The closed dome also means that the stadium is useful all year around.
Don’t get me wrong, there Rogers Centre does have its drawbacks, especially the feeling that it is always half-empty. It can’t be helped - its seating capacity is fifth largest in Major League Baseball but Toronto averages the fourth smallest crowd in the Majors. As a result, the stadium seems deserted for most games.
As far as service goes, the staff at concessions and in the stands are fine. However, the public announcer and the rest of the in-game entertainment seem desperate to energize the staid Toronto crowd. They don’t seem to realize that Torontonians are almost always quiet at concerts, festivals and other events. It’s just in the city’s character.
Unfortunately, this year they’ve tried to boost the crowd’s excitement by cranking the music as loudly as possible, stifling conversation and drowning out any attempts at chants or cheers from the crowd. The stadium may not be quiet, but the crowd is. It distracts from the action on the field and takes away from baseball’s pastoral roots.
Toronto’s Rogers Centre is far from perfect, but it’s also not the worst ballpark I’ve ever been to. It’s accessible by public transit and is reasonably priced. It’s clean and family friendly. Unlike Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium it’s better suited to locals than visiting fans, but that’s not a serious offence for a stadium. It serves the city of Toronto admirably.
Sitting in the bleachers at Citifield, home of the New York Mets, is a world away from watching a game across the East River at Yankee Stadium.
Just getting there takes 45 minutes by subway train, taking you far from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the relatively open space of Queens. Given its proximity to LaGuardia airport, the drone of planes is in constant competition with the organ as opposed to the bass-heavy hip-hop and rock played by the Yankees.
Most striking of all, the atmosphere is friendly and family-oriented. It's hard to believe that it's the same city.
Although the exterior to Citifield is rather bland, the interior has an eclectic, retro-feel. The seating sections are layered on top of each other and crammed into odd angles, although the seats themselves still have lots of leg room.
Spaces like the Jackie Robinson Rotunda tie the history of the Mets to the Brooklyn Dodgers, their spiritual ancestors of in the National League. That retro vibe translates well into Citifield’s concourses that are full of modern concessions modelled to look like traditional ballpark stands.
I attended New York’s heartbreaking 8-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on July 5th. Since the Mets hadn’t played on Independence Day, the stadium was in full patriotic splendour. Although the Yankees had a stirring tribute to Lou Gehrig the day before, as well as the traditional singing of God Bless America, the Mets topped them in their Fourth of July celebrations.
Before the opening pitch at Citifield they had members of the U.S.O. singing the anthems of the various divisions of the American armed forces. Then they had a Lieutenant-General swear a group of recruits into the army.
During every stoppage of play they ran video of soldiers from Queens and Brooklyn in Iraq and Afghanistan greeting their families who’d been given seats at the game. It was a touching and heartfelt display, and really illustrated the connection between the Mets, their fans and those serving overseas.
That’s what was nice about the entire Citifield experience – it really balances the old and new and emphasizes the connection between the Mets and their fans in the boroughs of New York City.
Also, as a relatively neutral observer, they succeeded in drawing me in to the game and I found myself rooting for the home team despite myself.
Although Yankee Stadium has more history and significance behind it, as a venue for watching a baseball game I’d take Citifield any day of the week.