Saturday, June 28, 2014

Toronto Blue Jays

The hot dog quest goes international! Toronto to be exact. Canada is another country you know. I know because every time I cross the border I feel like I am being interrogated by the KGB and accused of being some sort of double agent. I guess they didn’t recognize my celebrity as being the Prince of Processed Meat. They did forego the cavity search though, so I was somewhat relieved. After having invaded Ontario I headed for the Rogers Centre (yeah, they use the Queen’s english), or better known to us baseball purist as its original name The Skydome.

The stadium was a wonder when it opened in 1989 (yep, been that long). It was the first MLB venue to have a retractable roof. Personally, I used to hate indoor baseball. It was meant to be played outside, in the sun preferably. Then I learned about melanoma and warmed to nighttime baseball, but inside? Then, one summer day in Houston where I lived at the time, I decided to walk from my apartment to the Astros game. It was 3 miles or so and it was 105F outside. The Astros close the roof once the ambient air temperature hits 85F. After I stumbled in and nearly collapsed from my hike through the valley of hell I soaked up the “cool’ 80F or so air. I swore I would never bitch about domes or roofs on ballparks again. Plus think about it, with a retractable roof there is never a rainout. Which has been my curse when visiting Atlanta. The idea has caught on. Arizona, Seattle, Milwaukee, Miami all have retractable roofs. Oh, and I took the Greyhound Bus from Buffalo. Greyhound has come a long way, not a bad trip.

All of the other convertible ballparks had Toronto’s template to learn from. Unfortunately for all of them there really is no way to put a retractable roof on a stadium without making it somewhat rectangular. What is a weather avoiding plus detracts from the ballpark ambiance. There is simply no getting around it. All of them have a bit of a warehouse look/feel to them. And since Toronto was the first, this factor hits the Blue Jays the hardest.

Carmen Day and Some Handsome Dude
They try hard to make up for the long in tooth venue by providing a very personalized customer experience. Carmen Day, the Director of Guest Experience, has over 30 ambassadors working at the park to ensure each fan has a memorable time. If you catch a home run ball, for example, her crew will get the ball autographed by the slugger who belted it. The Jays are also hosting “Cottage in the City” weekend at the park. A cottage is what the knucks call a lake house, or cabin or dacha, or some other colloquial term for small out of the city getaways digs. A plaza is blocked off and there is electronic fishing, faux kayaking, bands, beer and everything else one needs to get their cottage on before catching a game. It is very unique and Canadian.

Bun-a unique and soft italian style bun with brush on cornmeal. Quite tasty.
Taste-the Schneider’s frank is plump and not too fatty (a good thing if you eat as many as I do).
Toppings-so far the best selection in baseball. Buy a dog and you can pile enough stuff on top to make it a meal. If I awarded extra points Toronto would get them for this category.
Price-$5.50 (thereabout, I had to do the currency conversion in my head. I went to school in WV so cut me some slack on this). I would say too pricey, but considering the size of the frank and the fact that you can pretty much build a salad on top of your dog with the toppings, it isn’t a bad deal.
Portability-another first with a half-sleeve/half wrapper that I can’t really explain. It does a decent job though.
It Factor-Toronto would have scored lower since they only offer a footlong version of the regular dog. But the Jays fans are so ga ga goo goo over this dog is earns a good score.

Location-in a nice section of downtown Toronto.
Access-all modes. I walked from the Greyhound bus station in about 30 minutes.
GA Ticket Price-Again, the conversion is about $15. Kinda pricey but hey, it’s an international venue.
Cleanliness-the crew does a splendid job of keeping the old Skydome in shape.
Fans-small crowd for a Friday. They warmed up to the game after it got exciting (there were 5 homers). Many seemed to be socializing rather than watching the game though.
Ambiance-tough for any retractable roof ballpark. The warehouse look is never appealing and the one in Toronto is mostly concrete. Inside it is better but while it is a wonder, the aesthetics drag the score down a bit.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability4GA Ticket Price3.5
It Factor4.5Fans3.5

Cottage Days Electronic Fishing
Carmen was nice enough to show me all of the eats available at the Rogers Centre. The selection is vast and actually very affordable. What is significantly more expensive north of the border is beer. Taxes turn their ugly head and the suds suffer. By comparison, the Blue Jays would pay about 4 times the price of a keg of beer than say the Pirates. Things like high taxes on booze are the stuff revolutions are made of you know.
OK, So I Got a Thing for Mascots

One other interesting gastronomical tidbit Carmen shared with me: pizza. While the hot dog is still king at the Jays game, Canadians eat far more pizza than fans at any ballpark in the United States. Can’t say I blame them. After hot dogs, pizza is the next big thing.

If you are baseball road tripping, Toronto is really out of the way. The border crossing is a nightmare and a real hindrance to the lure of heading north. It is still quite the experience if you can brace the border though. Seeing a game in the park that started the retractable roof option is not to be missed. And come hungry. Have a dog AND a slice of pizza.

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