Baseball season just started so that means your summer ballpark road trip is that much closer! In a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
Next up on our ongoing travelogue is our good friend Drew Fairservice from The Score's Getting Blanked. He'll make sure your trip to MLB's only outpost north of the U.S.-Canadian border is an enjoyable one.
The Rogers Centre is a lot of things. But despite what you might have heard (or experienced), it is NOT the worst place to take in a big league baseball game. Thanks to a not-insignificant off-season investment in the onfield product, there are serious crowds at the RC again. Yes, the crowds are borderline somnambulant and passive unless the Blue Jays have just scored or some has just thrown a paper airplane from the 500 level, but, hey, it’s Toronto — you take what you can get.
Meanwhile, the corporate overlords, to their eternal credit, keep re-investing in the old girl on Bremner Boulevard. Overcoming the former Skydome’s shortcomings is tough but the suits at Rogers seem determined to uncover a decent fan experience.
And a decent fan experience is where I come in. Let me guide you to pain-free, streamlined day at the Rogers Centre.
1. Getting there.The Rogers Centre is located very centrally in downtown Toronto. You can drive and park if you really want to, but traffic is an issue on game days (and also on all days which end in Y).
My old stand-by surface lot got the Hogtown Funeral treatment recently (it, like everything else, is the site of a new condo development) but there is still hope. If you are determined to drive, park under the Hyatt Hotel at King Street and Blue Jays Way. Just a few blocks away and reasonably priced. If price is no concern, just park right under the stadium and play spot the Bentley during your unreasonably long ascent back into traffic.
Toronto’s transit system gets a hard time, just like the Rogers Centre. But in spite of its warts, it represents the best way to get to the game. The subway is fast and clean and provides nearly door to door service. Be forewarned, Union Station (the standard RC stop) is undergoing massive renovations. The astute ball fan gets off at St Andrew Station and hikes it the few extra steps to avoid the Union Station/skywalk anarchy.
Usually the Spadina streetcar to Bremner Blvd is a strong alternative but construction on that route (at the time of writing) makes for a messy voyage full of smelly busses and vehicle transfers.
2. Getting there, “spiritually”. Once you’re in the neighbourhood, you'll need to find somewhere to drink.
The area around the Dome is pretty sterile with a few generic chain restaurants and theme bars which aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but they certainly do fill up with Jays fans pre-game. The south side of the dome is heavily condo’d so there is no place to tailgate, if that is your thing. You can find some pre-game outdoor atmosphere around the ballpark for Junior Jays Saturdays on the west side of the dome during the summer weeks months.
Of the McPubs within spitting distance of the Dome, The Loose Moose on Front is the best of the bunch. Sure, it’s a tourist trap but the newly revamped beer list is a sight to behold. Local microbrews and beers that bring other, cooler ballparks to mind at your fingertips.
Real Sports is a great sports bar if you love Vegas sports books and paying through the nose for everything. It’s a bit of a hike from the gates but man, is that ever a big TV!
Rumors that the RC began selling non-Budweiser beer was met with much excitement but early reports from around the ‘dome suggest it is hard to come by. Keep your eyes peeled for the “microbrews” but, rest assured, it will still cost you an arm as well as at least two legs.
3. Don’t watch the game from the hotel. What are you, a millionaire? Watching a ballgame from inside the sterile confines of the Renaissance Hotel, with its famous field-side rooms which invite all manner of sin, is antithetical to an authentic ballpark experience.
Sit with the people, cheer with the people. Watching the game from a hotel room is for bachelor parties only, provided that your friends are totally blowing it.
If, by some cruel twist of fate, you do end up inside the hotel while a game is underway; please understand it is your duty to end up on the local news. I don’t care how, just get it done.
4. Visit the new former Windows restaurant patio area. When the Skydome first opened, it was a wondrous novelty full of proper restaurants and all manner of oddity made the stadium feel like something out of the future. Sadly, that was more than 20 years ago.
The windowed-in restaurants sat empty and reflected the the Jays glory years as from a bygone era. Luckily, the tall foreheads decided to open up the former Windows restuarant, creating a downright interesting open-air standing room area. The hot spot is currently without a name but it is sure to be branded-up by whichever company ponies up the dough in no time.
Here is Jose Bautista depositing a home run in this new place to hangout.
There is a strong chance somebody falls to a severe wounding before the season is up but, as a famous Toronto resident says, you only live once.
5. Moving down to better seats is now a wildcard. Getting down to better seats used to be academic at Blue Jays games. You just picked a section and did it.
The increase in popularity due to a revamped lineup and sky-high expectations for 2013 complicates matters. During the week, many good seats remain for the eager vulture armed with the standard scumbags assortment of tricks.
Reason number 4 (above) provides a built-in excuse to break free of the 500 level caste system and investigate the rarefied air of the lower levels. Though the people in your life suffering from dietary restrictions represent Darwinian disappointments on a grand scale, feel free to exploit their faulty genes to your benefit. Running to the 100 level in search of a “gluten free” or vegetarian hot dog is a terriffic shortcut to the seat upgrade you desperately/cheaply seek.
6. Eat some food. Rumour has it the Muddy York, a restaurant thing located somewhere in the 100 level, exists inside the Rogers Centre and is actually quite nice. It reportedly offers a wide range of both traditional ballpark fare and other stuff that is interesting to eat. I wish I knew.
I am a simple man of simple (quasi-vegetarian) pleasures. Give me a cardboard slice of cheese pizza and I’m good to go. You will not find yourself wanting for such options (cardboard nachos, generic hot dogs). I think the blue seats are actually made of leftover crust from the World Series years.
7. Better yet — bring your own food! Because you totally can! Bring yourself a nice little picnic lunch and pig out to your heart’s content. They can’t even stop you, provided you aren’t bringing in any alcohol or anything that might serve as a brain-bruiser projectile.
I recommend a nice hummus and mini pita selection as it makes for a nice salty companion to your expensive ballpark suds. Don’t shy away from a little tapenade because, up here, we fancy.
8. Cheer for the right team (they wear blue) Please, don’t boo the Blue Jays if you're a visitor. Go ahead and cheer them. Even if they’re losing. Especially if they’re losing. They need the encouragement.
You might see the Wave make its way around the Rogers Centre at some point during the game. In fact, it is a certainty. While hating the Wave is easy and fun, don’t get all worked up by this most benign of crowd practice. It will be over quickly and you can go back to lamenting the current state of the Blue Jays in no time.
9. Keep your head up. Remember when Canadians were peace-loving, easy-going people? Neither do I. The influx of new/old fans has upped the quotient of ruffians befouling the good name of Torontoians with the fighting, cursing, and of course, vomiting.
It feels weird to say this about boring-old Toronto but the crowds at the Rogers Centre seems to have taken a turn here in 2013. Many friends and associates of mine report a weird energy and edginess in the atmosphere, an unwelcome change from the “cemetery for librarians” vibe we all came to know and love.
Wit that in mind, please remember a few key tips before you wade into that warzone of the 500s during a weekend series.
• Don’t get into a fight at baseball game
• Don't fight the guy in the row behind you, only in front (a.k.a. downhill from you).
• REMINDER: don’t fight at a baseball game
• Don’t rip the eyeglasses off somebody’s face and throw them at the field, as those are the actions of a maniac.
• Seriously, don’t fight at a baseball game
• Don’t throw things at the players, especially members of the Yankees
10. Get past what the Rogers Centre isn’t and have a good time instead. The Rogers Centre does not have gorgeous views of the local waterfront nor does it feature fish tanks, home run sculptures, Ferris wheels, mascot slides, exposed red brick, ocean air, or much in the way of local color.
It is a 24 year-old multi-purpose facility with more traits similar to a large shopping mall than an old-timey throwback to the golden age of baseball. A little bit of history and a whole lot of advertising resides at the bottom of this concrete bowl cloaked in green shag carpet.
But with the roof open and the sun shining and home runs flying off the bats of the Three True Outcome Brigade known as the Toronto Blue Jays, you can have a great time watching the game in relative comfort. If you stare intently at the scoreboard or just close your eyes, it will feel just like a game in a real stadium.
When the game is over, you head out into one of the finest cities on this green rock and have yourself a time. Leave your baggage and bellyaching and the door at let the hot sun dry your tears as the rhythms of the game melt away your preconceived notion and good times head your way. You’re at a baseball game and you’re in Toronto, fun is bound to find you.
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park