My visit to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in 2017 to see the Blue Jays host the Pirates in Spring Training action arguably goes down as the worst ballpark experience I’ve ever had. Terrible rules, awful food and a stadium that’s nowhere near ready to host professional baseball all made for an experience that lacked the fun that live baseball is supposed to provide. (If you want to read all the gory details, here’s the link.)
As I traveled home from Montreal a year ago, I vowed that I wouldn’t bother visiting “The Big O” again for Blue Jays exhibition action. About a month ago, however, I began to soften my stance. Traveling to ballparks is my favorite thing to do, and the idea of a miserable experience rubs me the wrong way. I found myself wondering if I’d been unnecessarily harsh in my evaluation of Olympic Stadium, and if it were indeed possible to have a good time at one of these games.
All this meant as this year’s Montreal series approached, I began to think seriously about attending again with the goal of rewriting history as best I could — and on the morning of March 26, I found myself sitting in the Ottawa train station waiting to travel to Montreal for my first baseball trip of 2018:
While I normally drive or fly for my trips, the idea of riding the train was appealing from a financial perspective. In addition to being known as having the worst traffic of any Canadian city, parking in Montreal is also expensive. I was looking at paying $25 per day to park at my hotel, and if I were to drive from the hotel to the stadium, I’d be paying another $20 per game. I was pleased to learn that I could buy a return train ticket for under $80, which made this mode of transportation a no-brainer.
I’d driven to Ottawa bright and early on Monday morning and arrived at the station well in advance of the 11:30 a.m. departure time. The train ride to Montreal took only two hours, so I got to my hotel in plenty of time to check in, relax for a bit and then get ready for the game. Since I was on foot, I elected to travel to and from each game on Montreal’s Metro system, and bought a three-day pass that came in handy not only for the games, but also for some sightseeing that I did on the second and third days of my visit.
My subway pulled into the Pie-IX Station next to Olympic Stadium a little before 4 p.m. (If you’re wondering what’s up with the station name, it recognizes Pope Pius IX. I was calling it “pie one ex” in my head, but Montrealers call it “pee nuff.”) The Pie-IX station leads directly into a large atrium type of structure that serves as Olympic Stadium’s lobby. You still have to go through the ticket checkpoint, but you’re essentially in the stadium without being in it, if that makes sense. (No? It doesn’t make much sense to me, either, but that would be the case for a lot of things about Olympic Stadium.) Fans were already lining up in advance of the gates opening at 5:30 p.m., but I wanted to get outside and see this bizarre-looking structure from street level. A year earlier, I’d been so miffed about the horrible no-camera policy that I’d grumpily neglected to walk around the stadium before going in, so I needed to change that this time.
Getting out to the sidewalk meant that I had to go through a security checkpoint the wrong way (more on security later), and fight my way through the crowds that were attempting to get through the checkpoint to get into the stadium. Soon enough, I’d made it to the sidewalk and … realized that there was no way of photographing the monstrous stadium unless I got much farther away. I walked for a couple minutes, turned and took this photo that shows part of the stadium, but hardly provides context:
Simply put, I needed to get farther away. Fortunately, I sound found a ramp that led to another ramp:
It was the type of place that gave me two concerns, given that there was absolutely no one in this area and I didn’t know if it was off limits or not:
- Would security spot me and tell me to get lost?
- Would a hobo stab me with a beer bottle?
I’m happy to report that neither took place, which meant that I could keep climbing until I found an open area that provided this view of the stadium:
(I’ll try to avoid a bunch of alien spaceship jokes, but you can feel free to leave ’em in the comments below.)
If you’re wondering about all the climbing that I did to essentially get to what looks like street level outside the stadium, let me explain. The street to the right of the photo, which is where I’d come from a few minutes earlier, is low enough that it’s out of sight. Yet, the street on the left side of the photo is well above where I stood — it basically runs along the base of the treeline. While there are gates directly ahead of where I stood, they were closed and the “main” gates were essentially a full floor below. Make sense?
This area was a blast to explore. Despite the stadium being situated in a busy part of town, and thousands of fans descending on the area as I wandered around, there was just about no one in this area. It’s my understanding that this open area played a big role in the 1976 Summer Olympics, which is the reason that Montreal built the stadium in the first place. We’ve all likely seen the online photos that show how quickly Olympic venues deteriorate in the years that follow the games, and this open space sort of fell into that category. Case in point — these stadium seats around the edge of the open area looked as though they hadn’t been used in a long time:
There was a lot of dichotomy to the outdoor space. On one hand, there were the flags of all the nations represented in the games still flying proudly, but the area was so messy and in disrepair (I realize that the melting snow doesn’t help how things look):
Still semi-unsure as to whether someone was going to come and yell at me in French for being in this area, I continued to walk around — feeling a bit like someone on a strange planet. My goal was to take a long lap around Olympic Stadium, so I walked for a moment more and then shot this panorama of the scene:
You have to admit that while there’s no disputing this stadium’s genuine ugliness, it also looks sort of cool. It’s maybe like those weird-looking pets that are so ugly that they’re cute.
I got as close as I could to the side of the stadium to snap the following shots of the cables that hold up the roof:
The cables aren’t just for holding up the roof — they were also designed to move the roof. When Olympic Stadium was designed, it was supposed to have a retractable roof, but that didn’t happen — which was just one of a million construction SNAFUs that the stadium has been through. By the way, that tower that holds the cables is 574 feet tall, making it that tallest inclined structure in the world.
I continued on my walk until I reached a platform above what is essentially the rear of Olympic Stadium. It’s an area with loading docks and looks a bit like a construction site, which I guess is fitting because the stadium has essentially be under construction in some manner for its entire existence. Here’s how this area looked:
OK, so the environment around Olympic Stadium wasn’t exactly brimming with fun things to do, but I’ll admit that I was enjoying making the lap around the stadium — in part because of just how weird the whole thing looks. As you might’ve noticed in the previous photo, I was well above “ground level” of the stadium, even though I was walking on a sidewalk. To get down to the main level, I nervously slipped and slid down a snow-covered embankment, which you can see here …
… until I was safely standing on ground that wasn’t covered in snow — and that’s where I snapped this photo:
Next, I walked through a parking lot until I got to the sidewalk, and followed it back to the security gates through which I’d walked earlier. Now, here’s where it starts to get weird.
This photo shows an atrium area that isn’t technically “inside” the stadium yet:
See where it says “Stade” in the distance? (French for “stadium,” by the way.) Under that sign is the doors at which you show your ticket and get scanned into the stadium. To get to this area, though, you first have to go through a standard set of metal detectors like at any other stadium in the big leagues. They’re outside and out of sight to the right of where I stood to take the image above, and allow entry into the building. The only thing is, if you visit Olympic Stadium by taking the Metro, as I had before deciding to go outside to walk around, there are no metal detectors.
Let me say that again:
There are metal detectors if you come in off the street. There are metal detectors if you come directly out of the underground parking. There are no metal detectors if you take the subway from any point in the city and walk straight into the stadium. And if you’re wondering if you go through metal detectors to get into the subway system, the answer is no. So, this has to be a colossal oversight, right? I kept looking around under the assumption that I was missing something, but I wasn’t. And the next day, the setup was the exact same thing.
Talk about dropping the ball.
All of this had me annoyed not because of a security perspective, but because of the stadium’s inane entry policies. A year earlier, I’d been caught off guard to learn as I attempted to enter that I couldn’t go in with my camera or my backpack — two things that are integral to me when I visit ballparks. This year, I made sure to read up on the policies, and learned that backpacks and “professional” cameras were prohibited. I immediately wrote to the Blue Jays and to the event company to explain my position. The Jays provided no assistance, and while I was able to get someone from the event company to discuss the matter with me, it was about as satisfying as getting spiked at second base while trying to turn a double play. I went back and forth with the rep to explain what I do, to ask for an exemption to this silly rule, to explain that in the nearly 70 stadiums I’ve been to, Olympic Stadium is the only time I’ve ever dealt with this asinine policy and, finally, to argue about what a “professional” camera was. I also pointed out that you can take Hollywood-caliber videos on a smartphone, and that the camera size has nothing to do with how good it is. Eventually, I was essentially told to buzz off, which left me wondering whether I’d obey the policy or try to sneak my camera in — because all stupid rules deserve to be broken.
Not wanting to get turned away at the gate and have to ride the subway back to my hotel to drop off my camera, I elected to leave it behind when I left my hotel earlier that afternoon.
All this to say, had I arrived from the subway with my camera and backpack, and not gone outside to walk around and then come through security, I could’ve walked into the stadium with no problems. The security guards at the metal detectors were the ones who were denying people with backpacks, although they were also waving people through who were wearing backpacks. (To add insult to injury, I literally saw a fan in the stadium wearing one of those hiking backpacks that runs from above your shoulders to your backside. I also saw tons of fans shooting with DSLR cameras.) So, I can only surmise that some of the security personnel took the rules seriously, and others didn’t. Could I have gotten in with my camera and backpack? Probably. But the risk of getting turned away would’ve thrown a major wrench into my plans, so I didn’t want to leave it to chance.
I joined the line about 35 people from the front and waited for close to an hour until the gates opened. There was a palpable excitement in the room, which definitely added to the fun of the moment. (For my part, I was doing my best effort to forget about the stupid rules and just enjoy the experience.) As the gates opened, the excitement seemed to turn to a blend of chaos and confusion. As we walked into the stadium, a lady on a platform was screaming something in French into a bullhorn, which made for a very bizarre experience. I can understand French, but the quality of the bullhorn was so poor that it was impossible to tell what she was yelling. I ignored and quickly navigated my way past her, descended from the concourse to the cross aisle, and ran down toward the left field foul pole to secure a spot in the outfield seats for batting practice. When I got there, this was my view:
In the first five minutes that I was there, no one on the Cardinals hit a single home run. So, I snapped this picture of the cool plastic cup that I’d received upon entering:
It’s one of the cups that you can sync to an app so that the base flashes blue each time the Blue Jays hit a home run all season, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy using it at home throughout the season. Of course, the no backpack rule meant that I had to carry it for the next four hours.
I’d been hoping to snag a Spring Training ball, and the fact that the outfield seats were still sparsely populated meant that I probably had a good chance of doing so, but I also wanted to get exploring the inside of this bizarre stadium. I figured my baseball collection would survive if I didn’t add to it during this trip, so I climbed up to the concourse to get busy wandering around.
You might be relieved to know that as weird as Olympic Stadium is from the outside, it’s just as weird inside. Part of the weirdness is that it’s just so freaking huge. The best way to describe the concourse is that there’s an inner and outer concourse — basically, an enormous concourse that has rooms down the middle to divide it into two lanes. Fans tend to stick to the inner concourse, which is directly adjacent to the openings to the seats, so the outer one is deserted much of the time. Here’s how it looked as I set out to explore:
I can assure you, for the record, that I wasn’t scouting out empty areas and photographing them. There was a steady flow of fans on the other side of the brick rooms that you see on the right of the above photo, but few people seemed to venture out to where I was walking.
I walked the entire length of the concourse, passing behind home plate, until I was behind the right field bleachers. The ultra-bizarre seating setup at the Big O means that you don’t walk right from the concourse to the bleachers. Instead, you take this weird walkway across no man’s land, through the tunnel and then into the bleacher seats:
There were only a couple dozen fans in the right field bleachers at this point — probably because it’s about a gazillion steps from the main gates — so I climbed up to the top row on the center field side and snapped this panorama:
After enjoying the good (the view), the bad (the weird one-armed seats) and the ugly (the random placement of the bullpens) from this spot for a few minutes, my stomach told me that it was time to find some dinner. When I visited in 2017, I didn’t buy any food at Olympic Stadium — and that meant that this time, I wanted to walk around to really get a sense of what might be fun to eat. I skipped the usual stadium fare, in part because the prices were once again ridiculous. The $6.25 being charged for a hot dog made it the most of any stadium in baseball, for what it’s worth. I chose to line up at the Levitt’s smoked meat concession stand. I knew that I wanted to try some smoked meat while I was in Montreal, and a long lineup is generally a good indicator of good food. A smoked meat sandwich, pickle and bottled soda came to $17.75, which seemed a little steep, given the unremarkable size of the sandwich. I carried my meal all the way back to the outfield seats and sat midway up to eat it:
The sandwich itself was completely forgettable — disappointing, considering Montreal’s connection to smoked meat. I’d like to report that at least the pickle was good, but it was so vinegary that I was visibly cringing while eating it. All in all, I was thinking that I was on the right track when I didn’t buy any food a year earlier.
Not long after I finished eating, the pregame ceremonies began. Perhaps the most memorable element was when, with the stadium lights down, everyone’s plastic cups began to flash blue. It made for a cool effect as I looked across the field:
You may have noticed in the previous image that the entire upper deck was dark. Unlike a year earlier, when it’d been possible to buy tickets up there, the upper deck was closed for both games. That was disappointing, because I’d been hoping to get up there and explore a bit. (For the record, I did try, but was thwarted a couple times.)
During the pregame ceremonies, and after the house lights were back on, I took a walk over to the third base side to watch several former Expos get announced and walk onto the field to huge applause. Without my “professional” camera, the ceremony was simply too far away to photograph, so I shot other things — like this image that shows the attendance (about 25,000 on this night) was pretty good, but the barren upper deck was an eyesore:
Keen on seeing the game from several spots, I found a standing-room spot back behind home plate as Jays starter Marcus Stroman made his walk in from the bullpen. As you can really see here, the weird overhang of the upper deck not only makes your seat really in the shadows, but also cuts off part of the video board:
The dark and semi-obstructed views were everywhere. Here’s how it looked from a seat in the upper row down the first base side, where I moved a moment later:
To be perfectly fair, the lower you got, the better the view got. With the obstructions and weird shadows out of the way, the view of the field from a spot like this one was absolutely perfect:
As much as I appreciated the view above, I was still curious to continue to explore the stadium — and to find zany spots to share with you. This next panorama definitely falls into that category. If you thought the outfield seats were far away from the action, how about going behind the outfield seats. Hardly seems to make sense, right? And, yet, here’s where I sat next:
In fairness, there weren’t a lot of fans sitting in this section. As you can see, there weren’t any below me, as I doubt those seats would’ve allowed you to see the field at all, and there were only maybe 30 or 40 fans behind me — including a bunch who were smoking marijuana well within scent of a trio of security guards.
I’ve got to admit that this section was so comically bad that I spent about an inning there. On the left side of the field, you couldn’t see a thing that happened behind the back edge of the infield, but I was still enjoying the sheer bizarreness of it.
After leaving this spot because the smell of smoke behind me was starting to get obnoxious, I spent a little time standing in the cross-aisle behind home plate, moving down to the stairs to snap this shot at one point:
For the remainder of the game, I split my seated time in the outfield seats and in the top row of the lower-bowl seats on the first base side — and I did a lot of random walking, too, to check out the bizarre stadium’s sights. (I’ll have a lot more pictures in my upcoming post about my second game at the stadium.) As soon as the game wrapped up, I quickly hustled out the main gates, through the atrium and down to the subway station, where I caught the first train back to my hotel and was chilling out in my room in time to watch the post-game highlights on TV.
Since March of 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays have played the final two games of their Spring Training at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Although I’ve been a die-hard Jays fan all of my life, and live closer to Montreal than to Toronto, I didn’t really consider hitting up the series in 2014, 2015 or 2016.
Lately, though, as I get some travel plans figured out for this season, I’ve had baseball travel on the brain — and that led me to make a late decision to attend the March 31 Blue Jays game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I had a busy day planned for April 1, which meant that I’d need to drive to Montreal in the afternoon, take in the game, and then drive home immediately afterward — getting in at around 2 a.m. Not an ideal scenario, I know, but baseball is baseball. And March baseball is definitely a welcome sight, even if the forecast was calling for six inches of snow that day.
I didn’t have to twist my brother’s arm too hard to get him to accompany me, so I made plans to meet him in Ottawa shortly before noon and make the two-hour drive together. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you might recall that Phil and I have attended games together a handful of times over the years. The most memorable was two summers ago, when we took his three-year-old son to his first baseball game in Ottawa. Phil has also traveled to Cleveland with me in 2011 and Toronto in 2012.
A few days before the game, we bought a pair of tickets in the front row of the upper deck on the third base side for $24, which is expensive enough for the upper deck, but affordable for the rarity of the occasion. As our trip approached, I found myself getting increasingly pumped to see “The Big O,” which would become my 13th different major league stadium and my 64th different stadium in total. I was exciting to thoroughly evaluate Olympic Stadium. As you probably know, there’s a push in Montreal for MLB baseball to return to the city, and I was interested in seeing what shape the stadium would be in.
When we got to Montreal, our first stop was Schwartz’s, which is arguably the city’s most famous smoked meat deli. It’s the type of place that routinely has people lined up down the street at peak times, but we when arrived a little before 3 p.m., we had no trouble getting a seat at the bar. Schwartz’s is truly an old-school eatery — it’s been around since 1928 and it doesn’t look as though the interior has changed much over the years. It’s got a bar running down the right side of the restaurant and tables are crammed along the left side. It’s the sort of place that you have to turn sideways when walking down the row between the bar and tables.
I’d done some advance research about what to order, and the common recommendation I read online was a smoked meat sandwich, fries, dill pickle and a cherry soda, so that’s what we each ordered. You’ll also see a couple hot banana peppers, because why not?
The entire meal was certainly impressive, but not cheap. With a tip, lunch for the two of us was a couple bucks short of $50, which is a little much for a sandwich lunch. That said, the smoked meat was as good as I’ve ever eaten, so I’d advise checking out Schwartz’s if you’re ever visiting Montreal.
After lunch, we made the short drive over to Olympic Stadium, where we opted to park under the stadium for $20. I find that when I’m visiting a stadium for the first time, even things like the parking are a thrill — it’s fun to anticipate the stadium as you make your way from the parking lot to the gates, and that was definitely my mindset here.
Unfortunately, before we reached the gates, we went through the first of several major disappointments that contributed to making my Olympic Stadium experience a real letdown. I’ll say, for starters, that I don’t have an emotional attachment to Olympic Stadium. I wasn’t an Expos fan growing up and I never visited the Big O prior to this trip. I can understand that Expos fans might be sentimental about visiting this stadium and view it differently than me, but I’m simply reporting my observations as a first-time visitor. And, frankly, I wanted to like it. I wanted to tell you that the Big O seemed ready for an MLB club. That it’d be a prime attraction for baseball fans from Canada and the U.S. But I can’t, because that wouldn’t be true.
The first of those disappointments hit me like a slap in the face as we exited the parking garage. It was a sign telling me not only that backpacks were prohibited, but also that cameras weren’t allowed into the stadium. I wish this were a joke. In all my travels, I’ve never encountered problems taking my backpack into a stadium, and certainly have never come across a no-camera rule. Then again, what kind of madman shows up at a sporting event and wants to snap a few photos?
The rule might seem like no big deal, but for what I do, this was majorly bad news. I carry a DSLR camera, two lenses, and a whole host of GoPro equipment with me to capture the scene at each stadium I visit, and this would be the first time I’d ever step foot in a stadium without at least a camera. Thankfully, I was carrying my iPod with me, which means that all of the photos you’ll see throughout this post are from it.
Even though I was hopping mad, I was able to find the humor in this sign, which told me that I’d be in the clear if I were only wearing a “sac banane:”
Unfortunately, though, my fanny pack was tucked away safely at home in anticipation of my next trip by air.
The walkway from the parking garage to the stadium opened into a large room that was absolutely packed with people, as the gates to the actual stadium hadn’t opened yet. I wanted to take a walk around outside for a bit, so we fought our way through the throng of people and out into the chilly Montreal air.
There’s little doubt that the Big O is the most unique-looking stadium I’ve ever seen, so I needed a shot of myself in front of this
alien spacecraft structure:
I normally like to spend a long time outside each stadium when I visit, but the combination of snow flurries in the air, challenging sightlines for photos and still being supremely miffed about the asinine backpack/camera rule, we wrapped up our outside tour and headed inside — but not before a weird trip through the security queue.
I was surprised to see no metal detectors in use at Olympic Stadium, given that they’re mandatory in the major leagues and many minor league parks use them now, too. Instead, we just walked past a table, where a guard gave people the stink eye and made them stop if he didn’t like of their jib. Fortunately, our jibs must’ve been all right, because we breezed through the “checkpoint,” got our tickets scanned and made a beeline for the seating bowl:
Despite my earlier annoyances, I was glad to be there and anxious to check out the stadium — and its weird yellowish hue that I remember from Expos TV broadcasts. We snapped a quick photo from the above spot …
… before making a plan to head back to the concourse to walk around for a bit. First, though, I had to take this photo to show you the bizarre shape of the seats:
That’s right — just one armrest per person. Although, I must admit that despite their weird shape, they were comfier than expected.
From the concourse, we were able to see part of the old Olympic park from the ’76 games. In the following shot, you can see a bunch of flags and the Olympic rings over on the left side:
(Of course, it would’ve been nice to take the above photo with my DLSR so that I could zoom in a bit. I’d say that I’m not bitter, but I clearly am.)
The walk around the concourse was interesting, let’s just say. Near home plate, the crowds were thick, but the farther away we got, the concourse was completely empty. See what I mean?
This next photo makes it look as though we’d sneaked somewhere off limits, but I can assure you that wasn’t the case:
After we’d walked through the deserted concourse for a bit, we set our course toward the left field seats. My brother had never snagged a ball at a baseball game, so we thought it’d be fun to hang out for a bit of batting practice, despite leaving our gloves in the car because of the no-backpack rule. The Pirates were hitting plenty of balls into the left field seats, but few that were super close to us. I would’ve potentially had a play on one line drive home run had I been wearing my glove, but I wasn’t going to reach out and risk a broken finger. My brother meanwhile, was showcasing a casual approach to baseball snagging with his hands in his pockets:
In about 10 minutes, we’d failed to snag anything, so we decided to continue our tour. When we left the outfield seats, we got a view that you don’t characteristically see at stadiums — we were way behind the outfield seats, but not anywhere off-limits:
Weird and cool, huh?
Next, we rode an escalator up to the upper deck, where we checked out our seats for the game. They offered this view:
Since batting practice was still on, and my brother was still interested in trying for a ball, we elected to visit the right field seats. They weren’t as full as those in left field, and we’d noticed a fair number of balls being hit that way earlier. So, after a quick stop behind home plate to take this panorama …
… we made our way through yet another deserted concourse toward the right field corner. I should note that the game wasn’t sparsely attended. The game had a posted attendance of 43,180 — it’s just that Olympic Stadium has such a unique layout, and it’s so huge, that you can walk stretches of the concourse without running into anyone — or seeing anyone, for that matter. Here’s how the concourse looked in the upper deck on our way to right field:
When we made it to the seats, I estimated that BP was nearly done. My brother quickly headed to a spot along the fence, while I stood in the aisle about half a dozen rows back and, again, just missed a ball that I would’ve tried for had I been wearing a glove. A moment later, I caught my brother waving at a player and then, to my delight, I saw him adjusting his body for an incoming ball. There were plenty of fans around, but he’s 6’2″ and I knew he’d be able to snag whatever was tossed close. Sure enough, he snatched a toss-up from a Pirates pitcher to snag his first ball:
I had to borrow it for a second, of course, to snap this photo — and you’ll notice that it’s an official 2017 Spring Training ball, complete with the Florida logo:
A moment later, my brother was snapping his own photo to share via text with his wife:
Sure enough, BP concluded about three minutes later, but not before my brother checked which player tossed him the ball. The player turned out to be right-handed pitcher Montana DuRapau, who has since been assigned to Double-A Altoona. (I visited Altoona back in 2012, and you can read about that visit here.) I recognized DuRapau’s name from a few years back. I’d seen him pitch in 2014 when when he was a member of the Short-Season A Jamestown Jammers. I was at the Jammers’ last game in history — the team relocated that off-season — and I included a photo of DuRapau in my blog post about that visit.
Before we left the right field seats, I couldn’t help notice how filthy things were. Look how gross the seats were:
I mean, I don’t need to be able to eat off stadium seats, but I also expect some degree of cleanliness. From the lowest levels of the minor leagues up to the major leagues, you’ll always see ushers feverishly wiping down seats with rags, but that obviously hadn’t happened here in a long, long time. It doesn’t exactly send a message of a stadium being ready to host an MLB team, does it?
Shortly before first pitch, we grabbed a pair of seats behind the right field foul pole to watch the pregame festivities. A number of old Montreal Expos were being honored, highlighted by an appearance from recent hall of fame inductee Tim Raines, who was driven around the field in a cart. This is the best picture I could get:
We watched the first inning from the outfield, and then decided to head up to the upper deck to grab some food and take our seats. Sounds simple, right? Well, apparently not.
First of all, the food prices were ridiculous. Plain, run-of-the-mill hot dogs were $6.25. That would make a hot dog at the Big O the most expensive of any park in the big leagues, and nearly $2 higher than the MLB average price of $4.50. There were no price breaks if you bought combination meals, either — a hot dog, fries and a bottled drink would ring up to $16.25, which was the cost of the three items bought separately. A 355 mL can of Corona? A whopping $11.75! There’s no better way to welcome baseball back to Montreal than by gouging fans at the concessions.
I skipped dinner out of principle; I certainly don’t mind paying high prices if the food seems worth it, but the food quality wasn’t exactly enticing. Around the hot dog stands, there was an off-putting smell of old grease in the air. My brother and I grabbed a couple bottled soft drinks as a dinner substitute and headed to the stands — and were quickly barred from entering because we were carrying bottles. You know, the ones we’d just paid $10 for at the concession stand 10 feet away:
Turns out that you can’t take bottles into the seats, but there weren’t any signs to this effect. Another stadium first for me. Normally, if stadiums are worried about fans throwing bottles, concession workers remove the cap when you buy a bottled drink. You’re then free to carry the bottle wherever you want. Or, you can simply get your soda in a cup.
A semi-apologetic guard sent us back out to the concourse and pointed us in the direction of a concession stand from which we could get cups, fill them with our drinks and go to our seats.
Soft drinks in cups = OK.
Soft drinks in bottles = not OK.
We explained our predicament to the concession employee who conveniently forgot how to speak English. And, when we attempt to break it down to him again, he turned his back and walked away. Awesome.
So, we did what anyone should do when confronted with a stupid rule — we broke it. We jammed our bottles in our pockets and took our seats, where we took clandestine sips like teens sneaking around a bottle of rum at a high school prom.
Having to sneak our sips of soda might seem silly, but it was pretty tame compared to other things we encountered in the upper deck.
- A “fan” one section to our right was holding up a homemade sign that simply featured the F-word.
- Fans in front of us were sharing the contents of a whiskey bottle in plain sight of security.
- There was so much cigarette smoke wafting through the upper deck that I had a sore throat by the time we left. And, yes, Olympic Stadium is a non-smoking venue.
It was a bit like the wild west up there. And, hilariously, security was all over us for our bottles, but apparently had no problem with the above issues.
Still, all these issues didn’t prevent us from enjoying watching the actual game. Our seats gave us a nice view of the field, which you can see here in panoramic form:
We also had a good view of the interesting setup beyond the left field fence:
Those are the stands that we’d previously visited, but you’ll also notice the two teams’ bullpens surrounded by some makeshift light stands. The batting cages were positioned behind the batter’s eye — you’ll see a small opening through which you can see some turf, a home plate and the batter’s boxes.
We spent most of the game in our seats and switched to a higher, emptier row midway through just for a little more leg room. The game ended in a tie — another ballpark first for me — and we joined the other 40,000+ fans exiting the stadium through a congested area that looked like this:
That hallway was more congested than Fenway Park when I visited, for the record.
So, to summarize:
- A ridiculous no camera and no bag policy.
- Filthy seats.
- Overpriced, low-quality food.
- Inability to take bottled drinks into the stands.
- No enforcement of rules in the upper deck.
Any one of these issues on its own might be easy to shrug off, but for a stadium that would supposedly want to do its best to look impressive in order to drum up interest in baseball returning to Montreal, the Big O fell majorly short. It’s like having a job interview scheduled and deciding to show up without showering or combing your hair and wearing a stained shirt.
In any case, if baseball ever returns to Montreal, another few hundred million dollars will need to be sunk into Olympic Stadium to get it up to par — which will help to keep the stadium right near the top of the list of the most expensive stadiums ever built. (There are conflicting reports as to the exact number, but more than $1 billion has been sunk into the Big O between its construction and ongoing maintenance over the years.)
I’m glad I had the opportunity to check out Olympic Stadium, but I’m in no rush to return. I think it’s the first stadium I’ve ever felt this way about, and that’s saying something.