Rogers Centre renos impress Blue Jays fans but how new field plays still a question

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

The new-look Rogers Centre made an excellent first impression on fans before the Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener.

Friends Matthew Martin, Jack Fisher and Ben Watson, all from Kitchener, Ont., were excited by the extensive renovations to Toronto’s ballpark after the gates opened on Monday before the Blue Jays hosted the Seattle Mariners. Martin said the changes, designed to make the stadium a baseball-first venue, were immediately noticeable.

“I love what they did,” said Martin, who liked how the new seats face home plate. “There’s a lot more room between the seats and the cupholders are so nice.

“I mean everything looks amazing. It’s awesome.”

The renovated 100-level concourse and the new Gate 9 entrance is what immediately struck Watson.

“I was really surprised by the architecture,” said Watson. “The stone and stuff, it feels much more solid.

“The entrance over there, I was really surprised by it. It was so burnished and shiny and glossy. It was like the future, dude.”

Jamie Larsen, who drove into Toronto with his family from Kingsville, Ont., for the game, thought the renovations gave the Blue Jays the best ballpark in team history.

“From Exhibition Place to the old SkyDome, which was all concrete, this just seems a lot nicer,” said Larsen. “It’s a little more slick than just the concrete that it was before.”

The first phase of renovations were completed in the off-season between 2022 and 2023. They updated the upper bowl and outfield seating areas. Phase 2 was focused on the lower bowl, field, and players-only areas like the dugouts, clubhouses and workout rooms.

“There’s a game room, there’s float tanks, just the look of the players’ clubhouse is something different,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “I probably haven’t seen everything yet to be honest with you, but there’s a lot of it that really stands out.”

All-star shortstop Bo Bichette said the renovations will offer a small competitive advantage, at least when it comes to staying warm during longer innings.

“Moving the batting cages so close to the dugout makes it pretty easy,” he said.

A lengthy pre-game ceremony included a video that showed the transition of the multipurpose stadium to a baseball-specific venue. Originally built in 1989, Rogers Centre was designed to transition from sport to sport easily and was also home to the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts and the National Basketball Association’s Toronto Raptors for several years.

How the new field’s dimensions impact the actual game is still unknown.

Traditionally a hitter-friendly stadium, fewer home runs were hit at Rogers Centre last season despite the higher outfield walls being moved closer to home plate. The second phase of renovations shrunk the foul areas, giving catchers and corner infielders less space to catch foul balls.

It also created higher retaining walls in left and right field, meaning outfielders will no longer be able to lean into the stands to catch deep fouls.

“There’s more space taken out than you realize, but I guess we’ll see,” said Schneider. “I guess objectively, yeah, probably you’re going to lose some outs that were caught last year. We’ll see how it plays.”

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