Baseball road trip: Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome


May 30, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; A wide angle view of the Rogers Centre and CN Tower during a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Like Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, the other ballpark built just before Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards touched off an avalanche of retro ballpark blueprints, Toronto’s Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) suffers from the comparison. No intimacy. Fake grass (by design – the developers needed something that could stand up to the Canadian weather). It feels like it’s out of the 80’s – the stadium in Bases Loaded where relievers roll by in a golf cart.

And it is from the 80’s. At just 25 years old, it’s now the seventh oldest Major League stadium. It was also the last of an era of multipurpose stadiums. Where did the time go? SkyDome was introduced an engineering marvel: it boasted the first fully retractable roof in baseball before those became commonplace. The pitcher’s mound? A fiberglass dish raised and lowered by remote control. It had all the amenities: luxury boxes, a hotel with some rooms that overlooked the field, even a Hard Rock Café. In the early 90’s, SkyDome led the majors in attendance, and was the first park to attract more than four million visitors in a single season.

But the lease expired on the Hard Rock Café. The 33-foot-by-110-foot Sony Jumbotron, once the largest video board in North America, was surpassed by bigger, better screens used in new construction and eventually replaced. With the Blue Jays often relegated to the second division, Rogers Centre often feels cavernous, like a big warehouse when the roof is closed; it opens to cast sunlight on thousands of empty chairs.

In recent years, new stadium construction has slowed. The Braves, insufferable on the field and off, have decided to leave Turner Field, which opened in 1997, for the suburbs, as they were unable secure hundreds of millions in public money to bring the facility “up to date.” Think about that. It’s 17 years old. I was there two years ago; it’s a beautiful modern stadium. But as Walter Cronkite said, “that’s the way it is.”

Excuse my geriatric grumblings, but the anecdote makes one wonder what will happen with Rogers Centre. It’s clearly adequate, but after 25 years, the surge in modern baseball construction leaves it feeling like a relic from a bygone era.

Not a relic like Exhibition Stadium, however. A converted football facility, the Blue Jays played there for 12 years before moving to SkyDome. They won their first home game with snow covering the field, actually having to borrow the Zamboni from nearby Maple Leaf Gardens. And yes, Dave Winfield did indeed kill a seagull in the Exhibition Stadium outfield with a warm up throw.

Resource: Take Me Out to the Ballpark: An Illustrated Tour of Baseball Parks Past and Present by Josh Leventhal