August 28, 2011.
Tampa Bay Rays 12, Toronto Blue Jays 0. W: David Price. L: Brandon Morrow
First stop of the trip! The Rogers Centre is one depressing place to watch a baseball game. The stadium opened in 1989 but it feels like it was built by the same architect as the old Shea Stadium. On the outside, the stadium is mostly nondescript concrete, although the retractable roof does look pretty cool. There are two major exceptions, though: the major entrances both have crazy cartoonish statutes of men sticking out of the building, and the stadium has a hotel built into the side of it.
Yes, a hotel. Not really sure why anyone would stay there but it’s kind of neat for a stadium I guess. The cartoon men reminded me vaguely of the neon baseball players on the side of Shea, too. The Blue Jays giant banners of some of the team’s better players—Jose Bautista, Adam Lind (when not injured), J.P. Arencibia (really?), and Aaron Hill (traded). Really, everyone here just loves Jose Bautista and, recently, Brett Lawrie. I suppose there’s not much else to cheer for.
I find it funny when teams don’t try to raise expectations too much. In that picture you can see the slogan for the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays: “Hustle + Heart 2.0.” So, the team has basically given up on trying to excite the fans that the team might win something. All they can guarantee is that they’ll play hard. I guess that’s something. Also, the Blue Jays are 1 game under .500.
Entering the stadium again reminded me a whole lot of the old Shea Stadium and not really in a good way. After passing through the turnstiles at our gate, the only thing in front of us was more concrete. Ramps. Just like the old livestock ramps at the old Shea except without the view outside.
Our seats were in the upper deck, which is where things started to get real weird. Anyone who’s watched any Blue Jays highlights has seen that the Blue Jays have trouble drawing more people than some minor league teams. To deal with that, the Blue Jays have essentially roped off half the upper deck. All the outfield sections are closed off and the concessions in those areas are too. I’d imagine that being the fourth team in a three-team division (sorry Orioles) makes a fan base pretty depressed. Having to play in front of a stadium that, by design, is never full has to be pretty demoralizing for the team.
Things got slightly better at the seats. The view from inside the stadium is pretty nice. The retractable roof in centerfield looks pretty cool, the CN tower is visible over the right field wall, and the hotel actually has rooms that overlook centerfield. The jumbotron is big and clear and has a lot of information for the game. The lineup of the team at bat, for example, also includes the players’ average, RBIs, and HRs.
Of course, not everything was great. Leg room was a little cramped (for me, anyway). The field still has Astroturf, which, off the top of my head, makes it one of 2 baseball stadiums that still have it (along with Tampa, no?). All in all, though, it’s a pleasant place to watch a game. The presentation of the game was a MAJOR plus. The PA system didn’t blaze music or fake a noise meter or Everybody Clap Your Hands between every pitch, which I found really nice. There wasn’t much to distract the fans from actually watching the games aside from the ubiquitous pre-at-bat music clip. Big fan of that choice.
The fans who actually came to the game were pretty great, too. The stadium announced attendance of around 21,000 but that was just a flat-out lie—there couldn’t have been more than maybe 10,000 people there. But I guess if you’re one of only 10,000 people showing up, you must be a pretty good fan. Most of the people around us knew a good deal about the team and the fans were into the game despite the blowout loss (although I think they cheered the loudest when fans caught foul balls cleanly). One fat Scottish guy spent a lot of the game screaming that the Jays should have Charlie McDonnell and Ted Rogers pitch because they’d probably do a better job than Brandon Morrow. He also pointed out that Ted Rogers is dead. Oddly, the roaming concession guys walking the stadium steps didn’t yell about what they were selling at all. Most just quietly walked around hoping someone would call them over. In the sixth inning or so, one beer guy did yell, “BUY ONE BEER, GET THE SECOND BEER FOR FULL PRICE!” Everyone liked him for that.
I’m going to try to keep a running list of weird things the teams do to entertain the fans. Blue Jays games have a couple quirks:
- 5th inning grounds crew: Billed as the fastest grounds crew in the land. They run out from left field and sweep what little dirt they have to take care of (due to the Astroturf infield) to the sounds of the William Tell Overture.
- 7th inning stretch: Before TMOTTB, the Blue Jays evidently have a team song that everyone sings together. There are quasi-pep girls (?) who lead the song from the field along with the Jumbotron. Everyone seemed to know the words and the corresponding hand and arm motions. Kind of surreal. I didn’t even realize teams had team songs outside of “Meet the Mets.” I guess we’ll see.
- Weird quirk of the concourses: the Blue Jays have baseball card vending machines. They sell old-school packs of Topps and Donruss and whathaveyou alongside Magic cards. Weird.
Beyond that, there wasn’t all that much to do in the stadium, at least not in the upper deck. The Jays sell raffle tickets for a couple bucks throughout the early parts of the game and then have a drawing and give away a good deal of money to someone in the later innings. Somebody won something around $3500 at the game. I’ll do a better job of exploring in later stadiums.
Because of the ESPN.com article a few weeks back about the Jays stealing signs, I did try to look for the infamous guy-in-white in center field. There actually was a guy seated right next to the batter’s blackout area in the first row of the outfield seats. I did see him raise his arms a few times throughout the game, but it really might as well have been random. The times I noticed didn’t appear to have any correlation to the pitches thrown. And if they had been stealing signs, they should figure out a new system because Price was dominant…
The game was over after 1 pitch. Desmond Jennings planted Brandon Morrow’s first pitch over the left field fence and the game got out of hand from there. Morrow gave up two more runs in the second (on two more home runs). The Blue Jays never had a chance. David Price struck out 14 in 7 innings for the Rays before being pulled. I was kind of hoping he’d get the chance to tie the Ks record but he was pretty great all game. At least half of the strikeouts were looking. The Rays relievers struck out 4 more Blue Jays in the 8th and 9th while the Rays batted around in the 9th, scoring 4 more runs.
Jennings ended up 4 for 5 with a walk, 2 HRs, and 3 RBIs and Matt Joyce had 2 doubles and 3 RBIs. Bautista struck out three times, including once in a big spot when the game wasn’t completely out of hand yet. Today was something like the 11th time all year that he didn’t get on base. Kelly Johnson, whom the Blue Jays traded Aaron Hill for, went 0 for 4 with a golden sombrero. Always good to trade for a guy hitting below the Mendoza Line. Wil Ledezma let the game get out of hand in the 9th. That dude was awful. [UPDATE: Newspaper says he got designated for assignment after the game. Maybe things would have been different if he had the proper number of L’s in his first name.]
I’ve been to blowouts games before (I’m a Mets fan. It happens), but this game had the feeling of the gallows hanging all over it. Giving up a first-pitch homer took the fans out of it and the Jays just looked awful at the plate all day long. The fans tried and failed to start the wave at one point. When Ledezma came in and served up batting practice in the 9th the fans essentially turned on the team, complete with boos and sarcastic cheering when Ledezma was somehow able to throw a strike.
The selection at the Rogers Centre is a little more limited than I’ve come to expect from most baseball stadiums. A lot of the stands were limited to the standard hot dogs/popcorn/fries combination and not much else. In an era of Shake Shack and Food Network and sushi in baseball stadiums, the Rogers Centre is definitely little behind the times in its food selection. The beer was pretty pricey, too. Although food was about what you’d expect (around $5 for a hot dog, $8-10 for specialty food), beer was around $10 no matter what kind you got. With the exchange rate what it is—about 85 US cents to the Canadian dollar according to our hotel—that ends up being a pretty pricey beer.
There were two more exotic food options that we found, though. At one of the regular food places there was something called “BBQ Chicken Nachos.” These were a big disappointment, mostly because there was nothing BBQ about them and hardly any chicken:
Mostly they were just chips and cheese with a ton of pico de gallo and jalapeños. The second exotic option was pretty great though. They called it a Homerun Dog:
That’s right, it’s a foot-long hot dog topped with beans, bacon, and cheese. Delicious. The toppings could have been hotter, but the hot dog was tasty and not flimsy like you tend to get with foot-long hot dogs. And it’s real hard to go wrong with bacon and cheese. Wesley had a regular hot dog and said it was decent, if unspectacular.
That’s all for Toronto. As I said at the top, it’s a pretty depressing place to watch a game. The stadium is bland and industrial, the food is mostly unexciting, and the team is just good enough for it to be frustrating that they’ll never make the playoffs out of the AL East. I can see why it’s so hard to get people to come to games.
Next stop is Cleveland!