There are days on the People’s Wire – that’s The Canadian Press to you – that are really quiet, where we focus on Canadianizing stories from the Associated Press and crafting small, quick stories of our own.
But then there are days like yesterday when we live on the phone, recording conference calls, working from news releases and hunting down stories.
Over the weekend Milos Raonic was named the ATP Tour’s Newcomer of the Year. I put together a story on it and contacted Tennis Canada to ask if they’d have any media availability with the Thornhill, Ont., native.
Raonic wasn’t immediately available, but the PR person assured me he’d have a conference call on yesterday.
Sure enough, when I came in to work my boss Neil Davidson had printed off Tennis Canada’s notice about Raonic’s availability. I hopped on the call, rolling tape for radio stations on our broadcast wire and to refer to for colour on this story.
It took a few drafts, but we got the Raonic story to a good place and it started spreading across the Internet.
It was soon overshadowed though. The American League’s Most Valuable Player was named yesterday afternoon, with starting pitcher Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers – already the AL’s Cy Young winner for the season – getting the nod from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Verlander beat out Boston Red Sox fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista.
Oddly, Bautista decided to hold a news conference from his home in the Dominican Republic.
It was a strange move because, usually, pro athletes quietly nod and say “so-and-so had a great season” when they miss out on major awards. They may be pissed, but they hide that disappointment from the media for fear of looking like a sore loser.
Not Bautista, however.
He angrily made a case for why he or Ellsbury should’ve won the MVP award instead of Verlander. Bautista’s two major points were that Verlander didn’t play every day – an implicit qualification for the award – and that he was passed over for the honour because he played for the Blue Jays, a team far out of playoff contention in the fall.
Again, I had to write a full-length feature story (almost 800 words exactly) in just over an hour’s time.
Cranking out two features in a day would be stressful at the best of times, but I was also writing regular broadcast sports bulletins and doing other stories as well. It was a hectic day on the desk.
Naturally, an all-star player like Bautista complaining about an MVP snub made big waves, with several outlets putting the story online. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan even cited the story in one of his stories.
This morning, on a hunch, I bought the print edition of the Globe and Mail, assuming that my Bautista story would make the Toronto edition.
It didn’t – but my Raonic piece did. Here's a photo of the only story that has ever made it onto my fridge door at home.
Today I sat in on a call with Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. The team had set up the call after the Jays signed the club option for infielder Edwin Encarnacion and let relief pitcher Jon Rauch, amongst others, become free agents.
A link to my article is below.
Encarnacion to become utilityman for Jays
TORONTO - Edwin Encarnacion is going to be a jack of all trades for the Toronto Blue Jays next season.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday that the 28-year-old infielder is going to spend more time as a designated hitter and even play some games in the outfield.
"The fact that Edwin can play multiple positions, and now he's going to be playing some left field in winter ball as well, will open up some flexibility," Anthopoulos told a media conference call. "As we sit here today, the role would primarily be DH but we like he can play some first, play some third and we'd like to find out a little bit more about him in left field."
As I've alluded to once or twice, I used to work for the World's Biggest Bookstore in downtown Toronto, a part of the Chapters-Indigo chain.
About the same time I moved on to being a professional writer many of my coworkers at the WBB also moved on to bigger and better things, including my manager Justin Sorbara-Hosker, who now works for Indigo's online department.
A couple of weeks ago Justin and the staff at Simon and Schuster were kind enough to forward me a copy of Shawn Green's new book "The Way of Baseball" which I reviewed for Indigo's blog.
Below is my introduction, followed by a link to the rest of the article.
Shawn Green's The Way of Baseball has a concept so simple it's amazing no one has done it before—it uses hitting a baseball as an evolving metaphor that can be applied to everyday life.
Green draws on his career as a right-fielder with the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets and examines how he used batting practice as a method of finding peace and balance in his day-to-day life.
The book is broken into nine chapters titled “Stillness,” “Space and Separation,” “Awareness,” “Ego,” “Presence,” “The Zone,” “Nonattachment,” “Gratitude,” and “Epilogue”. Each section details a step in Green’s personal journey as he develops stillness and awareness at the plate and in his interactions with teammates, coaches and fans.
Fans of the Toronto Raptors and Chris Bosh, the former star of the team, have been on a collision course since the National Basketball Association’s schedule was released two months ago.
Ever since Bosh announced he was signing with the Miami Heat, fans have been chomping at the bit to heckle and jeer him when he returns to Toronto. The wait is finally over, as Bosh’s Miami Heat will be at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
“I’m on another team,’’ he said to the Toronto Sun on Tuesday. “I would like it (to be liked) because that’s like a fairy tale ending or beginning, but that might not be the case.
“I’ll be ready for anything.”
Bosh can hope all he want, but he is going to be booed and heckled every time he steps in Toronto for the rest of his career. He will be subjected to as much vitriol as Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady are even though they’re years removed from their time on the Raptors.
Sadly, Bosh will probably never understand why he’s now the target of so much scorn in Toronto.
Ironically, the reason for the hatred is the same reason why he left: he doesn’t understand the character of the city.
He doesn’t understand that, ultimately, Toronto is a conservative place.
I don’t mean conservative in the modern, Glenn Beck, Republican sense, but the classical, small-c libertarian way, with an emphasis on individuality, entrepreneurship and, above all else, work ethic.
Founded by Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793, the city historically stood in contrast to its Gallic cousin to the east, Montreal.
Largely inhabited by Protestants of British decent until the 1950s, Toronto’s early civic life focused on being loyal citizens to the crown, devoted members of their church and especially constructive members of the business world.
Those three characteristics earned Toronto nicknames likes “the Queen City” and “Toronto the Good”. Jokes about being able to shoot a cannon down Yonge Street on a Saturday night without hitting anyone were common. It was a staid, serious place.
Over time, monarchism and religiousness have faded and Toronto has become a more cosmopolitan, multicultural place with a vibrant nightlife. But that dedication to working hard and getting things done has remained at the core of the city.
The serious, stoic demeanour of Torontonians is often interpreted amongst other Canadians, perhaps fairly, as aloofness or even arrogance. There’s a coldness to how people carry themselves in Toronto, although defenders of the city would probably call it “walking with purpose”.
That indifference translates to the business world: It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, as long as you put your nose to the grindstone and work hard, there’s a place for you in Toronto.
It’s that businesslike attitude has made Toronto the most multicultural city on Earth. It’s what makes Ontario’s capital the home of North America’s oldest continuously running Orangeman’s parade, but also allows Toronto to host one of the world’s largest LGBT Pride festivals every summer – the two seemingly contradictory events are held just weeks apart.
That spirit of efficiency and industriousness is what inspired Peter Ustinov to say “Toronto is New York run by the Swiss.”
Toronto’s workmanlike approach to, well, everything, has influenced the city’s sporting culture as well.
Like most things in Toronto’s sporting history it all starts with Conn Smythe.
The founder and long-time owner of the Maple Leafs favoured players who played a tough, relentless style of hockey. His motto of “If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley you won’t beat them on the ice” shaped the identity of the franchise, and set it apart from the free-wheeling finesse play of the rival Montreal Canadiens.
Smythe also set the tone for fan behaviour in Toronto, enforcing a strict dress code for fans at Leafs games. There’s a famous story that a wealthy couple rewarded their maid with their seasons tickets for the night. The morning after the game Smythe called the couple’s home, threatening to revoke their passes if anyone in their seats wasn’t wearing a shirt and tie or a proper Sunday dress, because the maid and her date hadn’t met Smythe’s high standards.
As a result, Torontonians have little interest in flashy athletes or raucous crowd behaviour. They want to quietly cheer on their teams and reward the players who work the hardest, not necessarily the ones with the best numbers.
Take the current roster of the Blue Jays as an example.
The most enduringly popular baseball player in Toronto this past decade is utility infielder John McDonald, despite his career .239 batting average.
I promise you that when the team’s line up is announced on opening day this spring the crowd reaction for perennial bench warmer McDonald will rival that of reigning home run king Jose Bautista.
Why? Because when McDonald does play, he puts his heart out on the field. A terrible batter, the 36-year-old veteran has won the love of Jays fans by never quitting on a play, and happily volunteering to do whatever the team needs him to do, including pitch relief or help out as the bullpen catcher.
Similarly, the Leafs have had a lengthy list of players renowned for their intensely physical style of play that has earned them the adoration of fans, even though their offensive numbers are far inferior to their contemporaries.
Players like Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour will forever be deified in Toronto not for any goals they scored or any particularly outstanding play, but for the way they punished anyone who dared step on the ice against the Leafs.
Even when a truly gifted and talented player suits up for a Toronto franchise, it takes that same kind of hard-working, detail-oriented approach to win the fans’ devotion. Fortunately for sports fans in the city, the two best players to play in Toronto in the past 20 years are Roy Halladay and Mats Sundin, the quietest and most stoic athletes you can imagine.
This brings us to the Raptors and why poor Bosh is going to have hate, and possibly garbage, poured on him at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
It has little to do with loyalty – after all, both Halladay and Sundin left Toronto for greener pastures and they’re still beloved – and everything to do with how he left.
Whether they can articulate it or not, Torontonians are incensed by Bosh’s apparent rejection of their values.
Like Vince Carter before him, Bosh has left the Raptors to seek fame and fortune, to be flashy and find the spotlight of endorsement deals and American media attention. He left the cold, hard streets of Toronto for the glitzy nightlife of South Beach.
Worse yet, Bosh spent his last games with the Raptors sitting on the bench, nursing an injury. That is a cardinal sin to Torontonians: he was lazy.
Torontonians can understand, even appreciate, Halladay and Sundin leaving to win championships with better clubs - being rewarded for your hard work makes perfect sense to the city. But leaving for nightclubs and the easy life of sunny Florida? That is anathema.
It’s a shame, too. Bosh had showed so much promise when he was first drafted by the Raptors. Feature stories and interviews with the young rookie talked about how much work he was planning on doing in the off season. He openly discussed how he had to consume thousands of calories a day to bulk up for the more physical play of the NBA. Bosh liked to read. He was a computer science major in university.
In other words, he was perfect for Toronto.
Particularly after the disaster that was Carter’s time with the Raptors.
After all, Carter was a flashy style-over-substance player who briefly won the hearts of Raptors fans with the franchise’s deepest playoff run to date, only to blow it all by going to his university’s graduation ceremony instead of – that’s right – focussing on the task at hand and giving 100% to his team.
But slowly, the love affair between Bosh and Toronto soured. His charming videos of him working out became more self-aggrandizing and egocentric. It was less about industry and more about creating a brand.
Bosh had the negative example of Carter to try and avoid, but was also surrounded by positive role models like Matt Bonner, Jerome Williams, Morris Peterson and Jose Calderon. They’re all players who aren’t nearly as talented as Bosh, but who work hard on and off the court and were rewarded with the love and appreciation of the fans.
Instead, Bosh has opted to make a cameo on Entourage, film navel-gazing documentaries on getting his first tattoo and make over-the-top appearances with James and Dwyane Wade announcing how many championships they’re going to win with the Heat.
Bosh left because he felt like Toronto wasn't the place for him to reach the level, not just on the court, but off of it. He was right. It's no place for someone seeking fame, because they'll never find it here. The city spurns superstars.
Raptors fans, the supporters of any sports team in this city, will always favour the quiet, hard-working bench warmer over the flashy star with all the merchandise. Bosh's vision just couldn't line up with what the city demands of its sports heroes. That's not his fault, or Toronto's, it's just the way it's meant to be.
Unfortunately for Bosh, all this adds up to one thing: Toronto is going to show him no mercy. Not necessarily because he betrayed the city’s trust or because he is a bad player or because Raptors fans are particularly spiteful, but because he’s turned his back on the values the city holds most dear. Effort. Hustle. Hard work.
Chris Bosh is going to be booed tonight and for the rest of his career because he rejected the core value that governs behaviour in Toronto. He unknowingly struck at the city’s core principle, and Raptors fans will be unable to forgive him for that.
Well, okay, there isn’t really a National Football League team here, but the Buffalo Bills play two games a season at the Rogers Centre and there are the Toronto Argonauts, historically the Canadian Football League’s most successful team. Football is definitely covered in Canada's largest city.
But I digress. Toronto has eight professional sports teams, on a par with, or better than, the 14 American cities that have teams in the NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.
Unfortunately, this creates a weird competition amongst the teams as they vie for fans attention. I was reminded of this weeks ago when a friend of mine from senior school posted on Facebook “So glad the Leafs suck more than the Raps. At least the Raps have upside”.
Of course, this was before the Raptors embarked on a Cavaliers-esque 13-game losing streak, but the comment got me wondering: what is the best team in Toronto? Which team does the best job of representing a city spoiled for choice?
Here are all of the city’s professional sports franchises, in order of winning percentage over the past two years.
|Team||This season||Last season||Cumulative|
|Rock||.667 (4-2)*||.562 (9-7)†||.615|
|Blue Jays||.525 (85-77)||.463 (75-87)||.494|
|Marlies||.470 (24-20-7)*||.413 (33-35-12)||.442|
|Nationals‡||.250 (3-9)||.583 (7-9) †¥||.417|
|Maple Leafs||.426 (23-26-5)*||.366 (30-38-14)||.396|
|Raptors||.269 (14-38)*||.488 (40-42)||.379|
|Argonauts||.500 (9-9-0) †||.167 (3-15-0)||.336|
|Toronto FC||.300 (9-13-8)||.333 (10-11-9)||.317|
Notes: * - Season currently underway.
† - Made the playoffs.
¥ - Won championship.
‡ - It was announced in the offseason that the Toronto Nationals have moved to the bustling metropolis of Hamilton, Ont., for 2011.
What’s most apparent in this chart is that it’s good to be a fan of lacrosse in Toronto. Especially if you live in the western part of the Greater Toronto Area, since Major League Lacrosse’s Toronto Nationals – the most recent champions in the city – are moving to nearby Hamilton.
But if you want to see a Toronto-based team do well in the regular season and go deep in to the postseason, you’d better pick up the nuances of lacrosse. The Rock are the best team in the NLL this year after losing a close game in the league championship last season.
Further, six of Toronto’s last nine championships have come from lacrosse teams, with the Rock contributing five and the Nationals bringing home the Steinfeld Cup two summers ago. The other three are all thanks to the Toronto Argonauts winning the Grey Cup in 1996, 1997 and 2004.
It’s also worth noting that attendance is seemingly unaffected by a team’s success.
Most Torontonians would immediately twig to the fact that the Maple Leafs, the city’s fifth best team, remain the most popular franchise while the Blue Jays – ranked second – had serious attendance problems last summer.
But what I find most striking is that Toronto FC, the team with the most passionate fans, has the worst record of Hogtown’s professional sports franchises.
In any event, I think this is an interesting exercise that would test perceptions of Toronto’s sports teams. Tell me: were there any surprises on this chart for you?
Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of this blog's creation. For the past year this website has been a place to work on my writing, talk about things that interest me and show off my various professional projects.
I’ve been really pleased with this site and with how my career has developed over the past year. In particular, I’ve been touched by all the positive feedback I’ve received from people. I’m always surprised with how often friends or family mention that they love my writing here. It’s nice to see my hard work appreciated like that.
To me, the most incredible thing about this blog is all the people who’ve read my posts that I don’t know personally. According to my metrics, I’ve had 16,688 unique visits and counting. When I started this site a year ago I never thought I’d have that many visitors.
Thank you for all your support.
To celebrate this blog’s anniversary I thought I’d list the top five most popular articles on this website.
But before I do, I want to mention two in particular: "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" and "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down". These two posts are the two biggest spikes in readership I’ve had over the course of the year. In both cases my readership doubled or even tripled the day they were posted.
Here are the top five most read articles of JCH.com over the past 365 days, in ascending order:
5. "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" – May 14th, 2010
As mentioned above, this article was one of the first big spikes in traffic this blog saw. Collecting a total of 202 unique page views since it was first published, this was my first serious stab at discussing the evolving role of media in sports.
“An interesting experiment occurred on Thursday night as the Boston Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers from the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference semifinal with a 94-85 victory.
As league MVP LeBron James stepped up to the free throw line in the second half the Boston crowd began to chant “New-York-Knicks! New-York-Knicks!”, referring to one of the more moribund destinations that the soon-to-be free agent might head to in the offseason.
Later, the Celtic faithful began to chant “MSG! MSG!”, the acronym for Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Knicks.
This was all part of a grand scheme concocted by ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, Boston’s most famous sports fan, and it may just revolutionize spectatordom.”
4. "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down" – Oct. 19th 2010
I’ve reviewed a lot of things on this blog: comics, books, the occasional movie and even some baseball stadiums. But my look at the controversial Double Down sandwich at KFC was the first and last crack at being a foodie you’ll ever seen in this space. That review was particularly timely, earning some buzz and a spike in readership, eventually tallying 214 reads.
“It took months to make it possible, but yesterday I finally ate a Double Down from KFC.
Normally, reviewing a sandwich is not my bag. After all, my good friend and neighbour John already does a bang-up job over at In Search of a Sandwich. Why would I want to compete?
But the Double Down - KFC’s bacon, sauce and cheese sandwich that substitutes the bread for pieces of deep-fried chicken - transcends a normal sandwich. Just as the Double Down pushes the envelope of sandwich technology, I must expand my blogging horizons for this fast food delicacy.”
3. "Three ice dancing performances I’d like to see" – Feb. 23rd 2010
I blogged throughout the Vancouver Olympics, usually in response to a significant event at the games. By far, the most popular of these pieces was my suggestion for three ice dancing routines that would set the performers apart from the cliché-laden pack.
When I posted this link on Twitter it was quickly picked up and retweeted by many of my friends, making it as close to viral as this site has ever been. That buzz resulted in a total of 313 views to date.
Oddly, and somewhat creepily, “Princess Peach” is by far the most popular search on this website, all thanks to this article.
“Like many Canadians, I was thrilled by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance performance on Monday night.
I would never call myself a figure skating or ice dancing fan – I find that too often the judge’s decisions are political – but I was impressed with the athleticism and technique of all the dancers in the competition.
What did not impress me was their lack of creativity or originality. Most of the performances bled together. Virtue and Moir stood above the rest of the competition because they didn’t rely on clichéd music like the themes from the Phantom of the Opera or Requiem for a Dream. They weren’t covered with sequins and feathers. Their performance truly distinguished them from the rest of the pack.”
2. "Toronto has two strikes against it for most professional athletes" – Mar. 9th 2010
I wrote this piece between Roy Halladay’s departure to the Philadelphia Phillies and the National Basketball Association’s free agency period that saw Chris Bosh take his talents to South Beach.
It’s a topic I’d like to revisit sometime, especially since one of my commenters pointed out that my math on the differences in taxes between the United States and Canada might be wrong. Despite the possible error, this post has been read 417 times.
“This summer could be particularly heart-breaking for fans of the Toronto Raptors as they face the prospect of forward Chris Bosh, arguably the best player the team has ever seen, leaving the city as a free agent.
Toronto Blue Jays fans can sympathize with their basketball neighbours – this summer they lost ace Roy Halladay in a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.
It’s a familiar story for Torontonians. One of their teams will draft a player who becomes a star, but the franchise player eventually begins to grumble and complain about greener pastures, eventually demanding a trade or letting their contract expire and moving on via free agency.”
1. "Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells" – Sept. 15th 2010
I try to review every book that I read, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the general themes of this blog like sports and pop culture. But the incredible success of my review of the Glass Castle shows that maybe, just maybe, I should review literally every single thing I experience. Not just books, but music, food, furniture, public transportation, whatever. Although it is the second-most recent post on this list, it’s garnered far and away the most views at 1,106 and counting.
“I never thought that I’d enjoy Jeannette Walls’ "the Glass Castle", but I was wrong.
On the surface, it looked like it was more for stay-at-home moms. It was one of Heather’s Picks at Chapters-Indigo Bookstores and reeked of Oprah’s Book Club. But once I started reading it I appreciated Walls’ writing and was moved by her story.
Like Frank McCourt’s ultra-popular Angela’s Ashes, the Glass Castle is a dark memoir about a dysfunctional family crippled by the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s loose grip on reality.”
At the start of this year’s baseball season I was really pessimistic about the chances of the Toronto Blue Jays. I told anyone who would listen that without Roy Halladay, Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas, the Jays were going to finish in the American League East’s basement.
I mean, how could they succeed with Alex Gonzalez 2.0 at shortstop and without the best pitcher in the game? How could Toronto win crucial games against division rivals with John Buck – a guy that the Kansas City Royals had put on waivers– behind the plate? I was a perpetual salt-throwing machine.
Well, mea culpa, I was wrong. We’re now in mid-August and the Jays are well above .500.
I know that it’d take an incredible round of good luck for Toronto to see any kind of post-season action, but it’d take an equally massive twist of fate for them to fall below the sad-sack Baltimore Orioles. Toronto is a legitimate team deep into the summer, and I couldn’t be happier.
There are two things that have really impressed me this season.
First is the superior job that general manager Alex Anthopoulos has done re-shaping this team. He hasn’t had any glaring missteps, something that cannot be said of his predecessor J.P. Ricciardi.
MLB.com blogger Jordan Bastian recently pointed to this article on Anthopoulos' personnel moves that shows just how successful the rookie GM has been. As the piece says, only Anthopoulos’ decision to trade prospect Brett Wallace to the Houston Astros for centrefielder Anthony Gose could raise any eyebrows, and even then it’s a pretty reasonable risk.
Most impressive was Anthopoulos’ work at shortstop. He signed Gonzalez to cover the gap, and then moved the journeyman to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline for Yunel Escobar. Although they have similar talents, Escobar is five years younger and has some upside. It was a savvy move, and already Escobar has made some dazzling plays in the field.
Toronto’s also impressed me by holding their own against division rivals. Although they’ve dropped two in a row to the Boston Red Sox this week, they also swept the Tampa Bay Rays last week and won a series against the Yankees in New York.
Struggles against the AL East was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ Achilles’ heel and here we are in mid-August and they’re 25-19 against their division. Granted, Toronto’s been able to pad their stats against the woeful Orioles, but that doesn’t mean the Jays have performed poorly against their rivals.
All in all, it’s been a surprisingly pleasant season at the Rogers Centre, with Jose Bautista’s power-hitting, the emergence of Brendan Morrow as a strikeout artist and the resiliency of the clubhouse making the Toronto Blue Jays into an exciting team to watch.
No one can say that I'm too proud to admit my own mistakes: I was wrong, my bad.
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.
Byron Parker cinched the Toronto Argonauts 24-20 win over the B.C. Lions with a late interception that he returned for a 41-yard touchdown. The victory gives the Boatmen a 3-1 record, tying them with the Montreal Alouettes at the top of the Canadian Football League’s Eastern Division.
This is big news for Toronto’s beleaguered franchise. They’ve been struggling financially since 2003 with past owners barely avoiding bankruptcy and needing bailouts to keep the club afloat. This tumult led to David Braley – also the owner of the Lions – buying the team before the start of the 2010 season.
Getting some wins and rejuvenating the Argonauts’ tattered image is crucial to reviving the most successful team in CFL history.
Here’s the thing – most people in Toronto don’t care.
Once upon a time this city was painted Double Blue every summer, but the Argonauts have long since ceded their hold on the sporting public to upstarts like the Toronto Blue Jays and, more recently, Toronto FC.
Attendance continues to suffer at the Boatmen’s home, the Rogers Centre, while apathy for Canadian football grows unabated in the nation’s largest city. As the Vancouver Sun’s Mike Beamish pointed out on Sunday, Toronto’s two home games this season – both wins – are the lowest announced home attendance figures for the Argos since 2003, when the team was on the verge of folding.
How did a once proud franchise end up like this?
There are many contributing factors including unstable ownership, an increasingly crowded market that has seven other professional sports teams and the cavernous Rogers Centre.
The biggest problem though, has been that the Boatmen have ignored the power of television.
It has been a long-standing Argonauts policy to black out home games on television in an attempt to bolster attendance numbers. This tactic may have worked for the Boatmen in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but it’s cost them since then.
Television has only grown in stature, becoming a staple in practically every household, while ticket prices have risen, making it difficult for the average fan to go to several home games in a season. Because Torontonians are unable to watch the Argonauts on TV, they don't know who is on the team or what to expect from a CFL game. There's no draw for the casual fan.
As a result, an entire generation of Torontonians have grown up unfamiliar with the Canadian Football League. It’s an important cohort too. The so-called Echo generation, the children of the Baby Boomers, are the second largest generation in Canadian history.
Instead of being raised on Argonaut heroes of the 1980s and 1990s, most Torontonians in their 20s and 30s have fond memories of Blue Jays like Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter.
Sure, there were some highlights for the Boatmen like when they were purchased by John Candy and Wayne Gretzky. The Doug Flutie years also saw a brief bump in interest. But in both cases the fame was fleeting, easily overcome in a crowded, Leafs-centric city.
There’s no issue with the product: Canadian football is an exciting variant of the game. The issue is that the Argonauts are operating under the assumption that Toronto is like any other market in the country when it’s not.
If the Double Blue want to improve their market share, they need to recognize the power of television and make a concentrated effort to appeal to fans outside of the Rogers Centre. They need to win over the fans on their couches, not the ones in the stands.
Visiting Yankee Stadium – the new one, that is – and watching the Pinstrippers host the Toronto Blue Jays was the focal point of my recent trip to the New York City. It was the fourth major league ballpark I’ve ever been to and easily the most awaited.
Opened in 2009, the so-called New Yankee Stadium was built across the street from the original Yankee Stadium. I had tried in vain to get tickets at the elder stadium before it was knocked down, but the only available tickets cost an arm and a leg through scalpers.
I missed out on the House that Ruth built, but did make it to the underwhelming House that Jeter built.
Don’t get me wrong, New Yankee Stadium has a lot going for it.
Architecturally, it’s beautiful. The ballpark stands as a monument to the impressive legacy of Old Yankee Stadium, mimicking many of the original field’s most distinctive qualities and emphasizing that this is the home of the most successful franchise in baseball history.
The architectural team of Populous insured that the dimensions of the field are exactly the same as the old park, although the new seating is slightly smaller the original field at 52,325 (including standing room) versus 56,936.
Also, as you can imagine, the New York Yankees know what they’re doing when staging a baseball game. Every little detail during the game was skilfully handled, from the anthems to the TV timeout features.
Charming touches abounded, especially when the Yankees’ current roster recited Lou Gehrig’s famous speech to commemorate the anniversary of his final game with the club.
And the food, my God, the food. Every stadium has a signature dish. Something that is distinctly theirs. At Yankee Stadium it’s garlic French fries with melted cheese. It’s gooey, salty, cheesey and above all else potent enough to guarantee some space on the subway ride home.
Populous did a lot to emphasize the history of baseball in New York City including moving Monument Park from the older building, creating a Yankee Museum and, of course, a centralized merchandise store off the stadium’s main concourse.
But that’s one of the key problems with New Yankee Stadium.
In their slavish devotion to replicating the style and design of the older building, they did little to improve on the old stadium. Yes, everything is new and shiny but facilities are few and far between.
As a result, there are long lines just about every step of the way. Crowds arrive early, so there is a long wait for most of the features of the park, especially Monument Park, the Yankee Museum and the merchandise outlet.
In fact, the line for Monument Park was cut off an hour and a half before the opening pitch because security personnel needed to be able to clear it out before game time. Same thing with the Yankee Museum – lines had to be cut off because they were so long.
I’ll allow that I went on Independence Day, when most of the crowd was probably from out of town and therefore more likely to go to the touristy corners of the stadium, but surely they could have predicted that those would be crowded sections of the stadium.
Instead, the entrance to Monument Park is in the middle of a cramped corridor. Compared to other contemporary stadiums like cross-town rival Citifield or Detroit’s Comerica Park, which put an emphasis on wide-open space and breezy walkways, it’s a confusing choice.
Ultimately, it’s worth going to Yankee Stadium to say “I’ve been there.” Visitors should expect high prices, long lines and cramped quarters. I would not want to be a Yankees fan and have to attend more than one game per season at that ballpark.