Tagged: Rogers Centre

Toronto Blue Jays – June 21, 2016

I try to visit Rogers Centre every two years, which means that after not seeing a game at the stadium since the spring of 2013, I was way overdue to travel to Toronto.

Time to do something about that.

For this visit, I think I was more excited about the hotel I’d be visiting than the game itself, despite being a longtime Blue Jays fan. That’s because I had one night booked at the Delta Toronto, which is one of the city’s newest hotels and the tallest hotel in the Toronto skyline. Even more importantly, it’s located about a Jose Bautista home run distance from Rogers Centre, and the ballpark-facing room photos that I’d obsessively browsed online offered as impressive a view as I’ve ever had from a hotel. (And, if you know me, you know one of my very favorite things is a hotel from which you can see the ballpark.)

I opted to take the train to Toronto instead of drive, as I was swamped with work and sitting on the train would allow me to get caught up on some writing during the trip. The VIA Rail train arrives at Toronto’s Union Station, which is the city’s central travel hub downtown, and I was pleased to see that I could actually access the Delta through a series of walkways and pedestrian bridges.

Anyway, I arrived super early, as I was hoping to get into my room before check-in, and I wanted to give myself some time to check out the new hotel and tour the area around it, too. When I passed through a walkway from Union Station to the Delta, I found my path blocked by a large group of men stretching on the floor — I quickly noticed that they were all wearing Vancouver Whitecaps uniforms, and were obviously doing their pregame stretching routine at the hotel before playing Toronto FC in Major League Soccer action later that afternoon. Always a good sign when a major league sports franchise is staying in the hotel you’re visiting, right?

My early arrival meant that my room wasn’t quite ready, so the front desk clerk asked if I wanted to visit the exclusive Club Lounge on the 46th floor while I waited. Umm, that was a no brainer!

When I reached the lounge, I rushed to the window to check out the view, and this is what I saw:


How’s that for incredible? The focal points, of course, are Rogers Centre and the CN Tower, but you can also see Ripley’s Aquarium, Roundhouse Park and a whole lot more. See the island on the left? That’s the tip of the Toronto Islands, home to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. And, since I love my panoramas, here’s the same view in panoramic format:


While the view was the main attraction, the lounge was outstanding, too. Here’s how it looks:


With the exception of an attendant and a couple people working on laptops, the lounge was empty, so I toured around it and learned that there were complimentary drinks and snacks — including red licorice, which I may or may not have overindulged in. It was cool being so high off the ground; I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a hotel so tall, so I had a blast looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows and identifying the sights below that I recognized.

Soon enough, I was called because my room was now available, and I was in for even more of a treat. Here’s a photo of how my room looked; this shot is off the hotel’s website because it looks better than the ones I took:


I’ve been lucky to stay in some outstanding hotels over the years, and this room is easily on the shortlist of the very best, both in terms of in-room amenities and view. My room was on the same side of the building as the lounge I’d just left, so the view was similar, albeit with a lower vantage point as it was on the 33rd floor. Here’s the view from the desk, which I took just after the dome started to open:


Would you like to see a dozen or so shots of the dome in various states of opening? No? Fine, I’ll respect that. (But I’ve got the photos ready if you want to see ’em.)

I was fortunate to be in a corner room, so I had a spectacular view in two directions. The outer walls were entirely made of glass, truly giving a panoramic feel to the world outside. I normally don’t devote too many words to hotel bathrooms, but this one was outstanding. It featured a soaker tub set up to offer amazing views of the city and lake:


I was loving the room, but there would soon be baseball to watch — and even though I’ve been to Rogers Centre a million times, I was still eager to arrive early. So, I quickly changed into my Gregg Zaun shirsey …


… in the hopes of having it autographed by the former Jay and current Sportsnet studio analyst, and headed downstairs. As you could tell from the earlier photos, the Delta is very close to Rogers Centre, making it a perfect choice for baseball fans or those who want to stay in a central area downtown. This is the view from the sidewalk directly outside the hotel:


When I got closer to the stadium, I turned around and snapped this photo of the Delta:


Then, at exactly 4:36 p.m., I claimed the first spot in line at Gate 2 …


… and began the process of standing there for another 54 minutes until I was able to hustle inside the park. When you enter through Gate 2, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before, you’re in right field. I was the first fan into the second deck seats less than a minute after my gate opened, and I was soon looking at this view:


My plan was to spend 10 or 15 minutes seeing if a BP home run would come my way. I’ve had reasonably good success snagging BP balls at Rogers Centre with minimal effort over the years, and hoped that being in the virtually empty second deck for the lefty hitters might yield some results. Unfortunately, it did not, so I soon began to tour the park and note the changes since my last visit. My first visit was the game-used room of the team shop, which is always a cool place to check out. The prices are beyond ludicrous, but I always get a kick out of seeing artifacts from the team and ballpark. Here’s the rubber that sat under Mark Buehrle’s cleats when he pitched his 200th inning of 2014, for example. Yours for a cool $2,500:


Speaking of pricey, how about a Blue Jays pub table for $650? Buck Martinez books not included:


After opting not to spend three or four figures on anything at the shop, but thoroughly enjoying perusing everything, I went back to the main concourse and headed over behind home plate:


And, as I made my way over to the third base side, I looked up and could see the top of the Delta poking above the upper deck:


Beyond wanting to see the hotel from inside the stadium, I had another reason for heading to the third base side — I wanted to visit the broadcast studio and flag down Zaun for an autograph and a photo. After all, I figured he’d get a kick out of my shirt. To my dismay, he had a rare night off, and a couple other panelists were talking with host Jamie Campbell:


Argh. Of all the luck.

I decided that it’d be appropriate to quell my tears with some food. Rogers Centre’s food selection has changed dramatically over the years since I started The Ballpark Guide. My all-time favorite concession stand at the park was the Quaker Steak & Lube stand that sold delicious chicken wings, but it’s no longer there. My second-favorite food item was sold at the Shopsy’s concession stand, which has also gone the way of the dodo. (By the way, the sandwich that I’d always get at Shopsy’s was called the Bill Cosby Triple Decker, which I imagine is no longer available anywhere except perhaps a cell block.)

After a full lap of the main concourse to note all the new food selections, of which there were many, I opted for the buffalo cauliflower poutine. It’s a dish that was new for 2016 and had been receiving lots of publicity, so I was curious to check it out. (Plus, I also thought it’d be fun — and rare — to have a veggie at the ballpark.) I grabbed the food and ascended to the upper deck to eat it. Here’s how it looked:


As I dug in, I was surprised at the lack of fries. The “poutine” label, to me, suggested that there’d be fries at the bottom of the container, but that wasn’t the case. Rather, the pieces of breaded and fried cauliflower made up the bulk of the meal. They were topped with cheese curds, buffalo sauce and fresh parsley. The verdict? It fell into the odd “good but I wouldn’t order it again” category. The fried cauliflower was definitely tasty, but I found there was a lack of variety in this meal. Soon enough, the cauliflower was soggy from the melted cheese and hot sauce, so everything sort of clumped together. I definitely appreciated the meal’s creativity, though — even if it wasn’t something I’d likely order again, it was fun to try something so unique.

The game began as I ate, so I enjoyed watching the first inning from a section I don’t think I’d visited much in the past. Of course, the ever-present Rogers Centre usher had to come over and check my ticket. I had a ticket for a section in the 500 Level in right field, but had stopped in a nearly empty section in left field to eat. For the record, the usher “let” me stay but admonished me to leave the section as soon as I finished eating.

Anyway, it takes more than an overzealous usher to get me down, so I finished my meal, enjoyed the unique view from my seat …


… and then decided to head over toward my seat in right field.

As I walked through the 500 Level concourse for the first time since 2013, I noticed a change. Ever since the Blue Jays became good again, the 500 Level has once again come alive. In the glory years of the team, the seats in the upper deck were often packed. During the team’s down years, though, many sections were blocked off and several of the 500 Level concession stands remained closed, giving a bit of a ghost town feel to the sections and concourse toward the foul poles. It was nice to see this part of the stadium so lively during this visit, and I imagine it’ll stay that way as long as the team continues to be competitive.

Moving from the 500 Level concourse to the seating area, I did a bit of exploring around to look at some of the varied/bizarre seating options that I hadn’t previously noticed during my Rogers Centre visits. This photo shows the top row of Section 504, which is the first section to the right field side of the video board:


I initially thought the seats behind the “504” sign were sort of a cool area, but you might beg to differ if I showed you the view from those seats:



After watching the game from this section for a bit, I continued to meander around to see the various sights. I noticed my hotel from a different part of the stadium, with the base of the CN Tower visible on the left:


My next stop was the WestJet Flight Deck in center field, which is one of the hottest places to catch the game in the entire stadium. Here’s how this party deck looks …


… and here’s the view from this area:


Later, I returned to the team shop as it was a little less crowded, and that gave me a better chance to look at the game-used items. Perhaps the coolest thing I saw there was Roberto Alomar’s glove from the 1992 and 1993 World Series championships:


It was, as you might expect, not for sale.

I spent the last part of my visit watching the action from behind home plate, enjoying views like this one:



I’ll admit, though, that my visit ended before the game’s last out. I’m not typically a fan of leaving a game early, but I ducked out of Rogers Centre a couple innings before the game was over so that I could get back to my hotel room and shoot some time-lapse images of the evening scene. Although it’s tough to beat the idea of being in the stadium, the idea of watching the sun setting over it from an awesome hotel room was pretty appealing, too.

Here’s how that view looked:

At about the midway point, you’ll see the Rogers Centre dome close, which I think looks cool.

I spent the rest of the evening enjoying the outstanding view, occasionally peering down at the street 33 floors below …


… and then I drifted off to sleep with the glorious scene of Rogers Centre and the CN Tower in front of me. My sleep, however, was rather short-lived by design — I had my alarm set for 3:30 a.m. so that I could get up when it was still dark, set up my GoPro again, and capture the sunrise in time-lapse mode. It was fun to watch the city come to life through my window:

(By the way, if you’d click to give each of those videos a thumbs-up, I’ll send you a virtual high five. Subscribe to my channel and I’ll send a double high five.)

When the sun rose the next morning, I — you guessed it — enjoyed the view some more before having an awesome breakfast at the hotel restaurant and then going back up to my room just to hang out and enjoy the view until it was checkout time. Given the cool corner bathroom, I sat on a stool next to the tub, drank a black cherry lemonade, and just relaxed:


The Delta Toronto definitely provided an outstanding visit, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for baseball fans. You can’t beat the view or the easy proximity to a ton of major attractions, as well as the impeccable guest rooms and top-notch service. It’ll definitely be my choice when I visit Toronto again to see the Blue Jays.

Toronto Blue Jays – April 18

The day of my first Blue Jays game of 2013 was long, but awesome. It included an exceptional hotel, tasty chicken wings, fun explorations of Rogers Centre and a ball during batting practice.  That’s the Cole’s Notes version, but if you want to read, oh, about 3,000 more words on the day, please take a look at this link.

I wasn’t hoping to top Day 1 on Day 2, which would again feature Toronto hosting the Chicago White Sox. Instead, my priorities were to write the giant entry you might’ve previously read, wander around my hotel a bit more and enjoy the Jays game that night.

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I stayed at the Westin Harbour Castle. I described the outstanding view and the treats that greeted me when I arrived in my room, but as for the room, here’s what the TV stand and desk area looked like:


And here’s a shot from next to the bed — the door you see at the right of the photo isn’t the front door; that’s down a hallway that’s out of sight:


To be honest, my photos hardly do the room justice. If you want to check out the hotel’s official photos, you can click this link.

I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the Westin Harbour Castle by sharing a few final points. It’s certainly one of the top couple hotels I’ve ever visited, and everything about the stay was remarkable. The view and room were wonderful, of course, but the professionalism and courtesy exemplified by every hotel employee I met was notable. At some hotels, the front-desk clerk acts inconvenienced when you check in. Here, I was greeted warmly by everyone I met and truly made to feel special. The Westin Harbour Castle will unquestionably be the hotel I pick during my next visit to Toronto, whenever that may be. I strongly encourage you to make the same choice. A special thanks to Valerie, Bin and Emile for taking the time to say hello and ensure my stay was a perfect one.

In fact, if you plan to visit Toronto this year to watch the Jays in action, there’s an extra reason to choose the Westin. Buy your event tickets in advance and when you call to make a reservation between now and September 2, 2013, mention that you’ve got tickets to a game and you’ll get a special rate as part of the hotel’s Special Toronto Events and Sports Games Offer.

I spent much of the day blogging, but by mid-afternoon, I was wrapped up and wanted to take a short walk outside to see if I could tell which was my 31st-floor room from the park below. It turns out that I had no such luck, but here’s the outside of the hotel:


About 4:30 p.m., I packed up and made the walk over to Rogers Centre again. I decided to take a different route to the stadium this time, and I was rewarded with a cool angle that I’ve never seen as I approached:


There were a handful of people around, but given that the Maple Leafs were also playing that night, the crowds remained thin all evening. After buying my ticket, I took my usual ticket shot:


As you can see, I decided to get a 100 Level outfield ticket this time. I stood a heck of a lot during the previous day’s game, and since I’d already explored Rogers Centre extensively, I wanted to spend some time just sitting and enjoying the action on the field. To mix things up, I decided to enter at Gate 4, which is largely unremarkable except for the view if you turn 180 degrees from the gate:


Here I am at Gate 4 — if you look closely, you’ll see my in the reflection on the door:


Part of the reason I picked Gate 4 is because it enters into the stadium’s 200 Level, unlike my usual entry point at Gate 11. I had success getting a batting practice ball in the 200s a day earlier, and wanted to see if I could get another one. When I entered the 200 Level seats, I was the only fan in the area:


Unfortunately, there were no balls to be had, likely because the ushers had collected them before I got there or perhaps because no balls had reached the second deck. I didn’t stay in the area for long. After taking this shot through the left field foul pole (or, more appropriately, foul net) …


… I zipped down to field level on the visitors’ side, where I had a close-up view of guys like Adam Dunn:


And manager Robin Ventura and assistant hitting coach Harold Baines:


Once BP wrapped up, I took a quick panorama of the view from behind home plate:


By now, it was time to eat. I’d had sushi for lunch, and while it was delicious, it’s not the type of food that keeps you full forever. This time, I pledged to try something different, and checked out the King Club Carving Table bar area, where I bought a Budweiser-braised top sirloin sandwich:


It was delicious, but was it good enough to crack my all-time top 10? I don’t think so, but it had a generous serving of tender beef, an onion bun, caramelized onions and horseradish, plus the Bud BBQ sauce. As you might’ve noticed from the above photo, I ate lunch in the outfield and as soon as I downed the last bite, I made my way over to the seats above Toronto’s bullpen where I watched R.A. Dickey warming up:


Just before the anthems, I found a 100 Level section in left-center where I could look up to my left and see people in the new 200 Level Outfield Patio:


And when I looked over to my right, I had this view of Toronto’s bullpen staff:


Now, I don’t pretend to be a scout, unlike many baseball fans on Twitter, but Dickey looked awesome during his warmup. He was shaky in two of his first three starts of the season, but he was doing an excellent job at keeping the ball down while warming up with Henry Blanco and I wanted to see if my observation carried over into his start. Sure enough, he was on. Dickey struck out the first two batters he faced, two more in the second inning and had seven Ks while allowing just two hits in his six innings of work. It was the type of performance that should’ve carried Dickey to a complete-game win, but he exited with tightness in his throwing shoulder — yikes. As you can see here, the situation attracted a crowd:


Remember how I talked about new Jays shortstop Munenori Kawasaki in yesterday’s post? I was keeping a close eye on him again. He continued to stretch between virtually every pitch. I like this photo, which shows Emilio Bonifacio, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie shooting the breeze while relief pitcher Aaron Loup warms up … all while Kawasaki is, you guessed it, stretching some more:


When he wasn’t stretching, he was very animated at shortstop. After each out, he bowed to outfielders Bonifacio and Melky Cabrera …


… and then struck a pose indicating the out:


He was very entertaining to watch, and while the Jays weren’t quite as exciting (what with their four hits and all), they still managed a 3-1 win:


When I got back to my hotel, I snapped this shot of the city, which shows the Air Canada Centre and plenty of traffic given that the two teams play just a few blocks from each other:


All in all, it was two awesome days for me and I’m glad to have visited Rogers Centre again. My next trip will be the opposite of a quick two-day event to familiar territory. I’m just putting the finishing touches on it, but I can tell you it will likely begin May 17. I’ll have details soon. Thanks for reading!

Toronto Blue Jays – April 17

With the exception of being away from home, I love everything about my baseball road trips. The ballparks and games themselves are the focal point as I continue to build The Ballpark Guide, but my trips are often full of other fun adventures, like doing interesting touristy things and staying in cool hotels. I’ve driven to and from Toronto countless times, so when I got up at 6 a.m. yesterday to get ready for my second baseball game of 2013, I decided I wanted to get to the city quickly, rather than do some sightseeing along the way. Why?

I can’t deny that I was excited for last night’s game, but I was super excited to check out my hotel. I love staying in hotels, and from the minute I booked a two-night stay at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle, I was pumped to check in. I’ve heard about this hotel for years and have always heard it to be a prime spot for baseball fans. Now that I’m here, I can definitely confirm this sentiment.

The Westin is one of Toronto’s nicest hotels and has a prime location right on the shore of Lake Ontario. It’s just a short walk from a number of downtown attractions, which is ideal because parking downtown is expensive and driving downtown can be a hassle, given traffic and the permanent construction in the city’s core. It was easy to find my hotel, though, and I’m rather directionally challenged. It’s just a couple minutes off the highway and before long, I was parked and checking in. As far as the nearby attractions, they’re too many to list extensively. If you’re into fine dining, for example, consider the Westin’s restaurants or take just a short walk to hit dozens of area eateries. There are also at least two grocery stores about five minutes away if you want to load up on snacks for your room. One thing I did before visiting was check out the hotel on Google Maps, and just scroll around a bit to see what’s in the area. If you want to do the touristy thing, the CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame and all sorts of shops are just a short walk away.

I was told that I’d enjoy my room, but WOW — I didn’t have any idea it’d be this great! I’m on one of the upper floors and have a lake-facing view. Here’s a shot out my window, although the photo hardly does the view justice:


You’re looking at a ferry taking people over to the Toronto Islands, a group of islands just a stone’s throw from the city’s downtown. As a side note, I went over to the islands once — during a Grade 8 trip to Toronto with my school band to play the anthems at the SkyDome. The spot that we boarded the ferry is directly below my window here at the Westin. And here’s another side note that baseball fans will enjoy — in 1914, Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run at Hanlan’s Point Stadium, a ballpark on the island. He was playing Double-A ball at the age of 19 and was still a half-decade away from tearing up Major League Baseball.

Most of one side of my room is made up of windows, so I truly have a panoramic view of the lake and islands. If I look out the window on the right side of the room, I can see Centre Island and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport:


I’m pretty pumped about the view, but the room itself is outstanding, too. But before I get to the room itself, check out what was waiting for me when I got in:


Yes, it’s a welcome note AND a mini baseball bat filled with baseball-shaped candy! I should explain — since booking this trip late last week, the Westin has been following me on Twitter and knows about my love of baseball. How cool is it that they’d make the effort to find a baseball-themed welcome gift for me? It’s outstanding, but it wasn’t the only thing waiting for me. On top of a nice platter of fresh snacks, there was this:


My room is about 400 square feet, which is significantly larger than my first apartment. Since I’m staying here two nights, I’ll get to more details about the room and the hotel in my next blog post — I’ve still got some exploring to do!

The gates at Rogers Centre open 90 minutes before first pitch, so I figured I wanted to get to the stadium shortly before 5 p.m. I’d have time to walk around and take some photos, buy my ticket and get a good spot in line. First, though, I toured around my floor of the Westin and looked out the different windows to get varying views of the city. Hockey and basketball fans will like this one:


As you can see, I’m right across the street from Air Canada Centre, which is home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. What a view! Soon enough, I made the short walk over toward Rogers Centre. The walk took about 15 minutes; you could do it in less time, as much of that time was spent waiting for street lights to change. It’s a nice walk and if you’re new to the city, gives you the opportunity to walk past the ACC and Toronto’s historic Union Station, as well as walk in the shadow of the CN Tower.

I’ve been to Rogers Centre virtually every year since it opened in 1989, I believe. And regardless of how many times I visit, it’s always exciting to approach the stadium. After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks, I looked up to see the stadium’s famous statue called The Audience. (Side note — it’d be nice to see some statues of Blue Jays legends outside the stadium, too.) Whenever I see this statue …


… I can’t help but recall visiting Rogers Centre (then known as SkyDome) in 1989 for my birthday party. I remember thinking the statue, for whatever reason, was the coolest and funniest thing ever.

There weren’t many people around when I bought my ticket shortly before 5 p.m. and, as usual, I headed toward Gate 11, which is where I like to enter the stadium. Once there, I took my usual ticket shot:


I often enjoy taking panoramas of the outside of ballparks, but at Rogers Centre, it’s very difficult to get far enough away and still have a clear view. I kept walking backward and as you can see here, I still couldn’t get far enough away to get the entire height of the park in my frame:


After embarrassingly tripping on a step (the perils of walking backward while looking through a camera, I guess), I looked to my right and Gregg Zaun walked right past me! He played 16 years in the majors, including a stint in Toronto, and has worked for years as the studio analyst during Jays games. I didn’t want to run ahead of him and snap a photo, so I took this one:


I’ve zoomed in to show his World Series ring, which he won in 1997 with the Marlins:


How do people feel about the Jays current logo? I love it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last couple incarnations, so it’s fun to see a logo that I enjoy so much adorning all sorts of things around the park, including many light posts:


The half-hour or so that I had to wait in line went quickly, and as soon as I entered the stadium, I made a quick turn to my left to head down to the left field corner. This is the route I always take when the gates open; sometimes you can find a batting practice ball here, or just hang out in hopes of catching a ball. I, however, wanted to get an early shot of the team’s new 200 Level Outfield Patio, which has been featured repeatedly on the team’s broadcasts:


I’ll have more photos of it later on, but it’s the structure with the railings between the Budweiser and Rogers logos. It’s free for anyone to enter, has nearby bars and a souvenir stand and, most importantly, has three levels of standing room. I figured that given its new popularity, it would be packed during the game. It was, but it was never packed enough that I couldn’t get a spot when I tried.

I often try to get a batting practice ball by hanging out in the 100 Level outfield seats or in the corners at field level. This time, I wanted to go up to the less-crowded 200 Level, so I made the quick jaunt up the dark ramp:


Seriously, how dark is this area? If you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were somewhere you shouldn’t be. I know this photo is less than thrilling, but I wanted to show how dark things are without using my flash. Things were brighter and more exciting when I got up to the 200 Level seats, and I took a moment to grab this shot of myself with the White Sox batting practice in the background:


I had to be quick; as I hoped, the balls were flying into the 200 Level fairly consistently. While I was standing in this area, I was thinking how I’ve been to Rogers Centre so many times. I don’t want to have my blog posts seem formulaic or mundane, so I decided I should try to take some shots of things I haven’t previously shared. As I looked around, the phone in the Toronto bullpen caught my eye:


I also get a kick out of these three seats; I always see them from afar but this might be the first time I’ve stood right next to them:


And speaking of being next to things, check out the view to my immediate left:


Yep, it’s the new standing room area I mentioned earlier. As for Chicago’s BP, catcher Tyler Flowers was putting on an impressive display. He crushed several balls into the 100 Level seats, and before long, blasted this one into the seats just to my right:


Adam Dunn was putting on an even better performance. He was routinely hitting 200 Level bombs and even hit a handful off the facing of the fourth level; I specifically noticed one hit between the Cito Gaston and Pat Gillick names in the photo below. Talk about power:


I decided not to hang out and try to get more balls. I was pleased to get one, so I made a beeline for the new standing room area to my left. I’ve got to say that it’s absolutely awesome. I’ve ranted about the ushers at Rogers Centre in the past, but those watching over this new area seemed really proud to welcome fans to check things out. I took a number of shots, but I’ll share just a few for now. Here’s one taken through the giant “B” in the Budweiser sign:


And here’s one that shows the layout of the area before it got crowded:


As you can see, there are three levels, tables and a number of sections have wooden bars for your food and drinks, or just to lean on. It’s a perfect spot.

The 200 Level has a number of cool additions since I last visited this part of the park. I was excited to see two bars named after former stars Roberto Alomar:


And Joe Carter, although I cringe when I see how they’ve left out a crucial comma:


After making one complete circuit of the 200 Level, I went down the ramp to check out the team shop. As I mentioned last year during my Rogers Centre visits, the new Memorabilia Clubhouse section is absolutely amazing. It’s full of game-used and game-issued stuff, and the only disappointment was not seeing the club’s two World Series trophies, which were on display here last year.

There was a cool assortment of game-used balls for sale:


And other neat things, too. Did you know that for just $800, you can get a broken Jose Bautista bat?

Since I was on the 100 Level, I decided to head over to the Sportsnet studio to watch the pre-game show with Jamie Campbell and Gregg Zaun:


I watched most of the show and from there, went over to the first base side during the anthems. Here, I caught my first glimpse of new Blue Jay Munenori Kawasaki, who was called up to fill in at shortstop with Jose Reyes hurt. Kawasaki has quickly become a popular figure in Toronto for his hustle and for bowing after plays:


(More on him later.)

I spent the first inning standing in this general area, where I took the photos to make up this panorama:


But by now, my stomach was growling. It’d been a long day and I was ready for something filling. I toured around for a bit, noting the new (and delicious-smelling) food options, but caved and went with my favorite thing to eat at Rogers Centre, the chicken wings at Quaker Steak & Lube:


After buying my food, I often grab one of the many folding chairs stacked up around the 100 Level and eat while watching the game through the railing. It’s a perfect strategy if you have a 500 Level ticket, as there’s no way you’ll make it up to your seat while your food is still remotely warm. I’ve done this for years, but this year, I was dismayed to notice that the chairs are locked up — see the padlock?


As for the wings, they were delicious and very meaty, as always. I got my usual flavour, Louisiana Lickers … and ordered it in my usual way: “The Louisiana one, please.” I wonder how many people actually say “lickers.” I stood to eat dinner behind the 100 Level outfield seats and after I was finished, noticed that the Jays new-look team has apparently brought all species out to Rogers Centre:


No big deal; just a guy in a bear costume, enjoying the game. My next stop was the outfield standing room area again, which was considerably more crowded than last time I stopped by:


It wasn’t difficult to find an open spot on the third level, however, and I lucked out because this screen was directly above me:


Game broadcasts nowadays are so good that it’s easy to feel at a slight loss for information when you attend games in person. Being able to watch the live game while consulting the screen for stats was baseball heaven!

The view from this area is really good. Photos always make things look a million miles away, but here’s the panorama I took from the area:


Late in the game, I decided to watch an inning or two from the concourse behind home plate, partly to watch Kawasaki. He’s a slap hitter who reminds me very much of Ichiro — and it’s not just that they’re both from Japan. Both have an insane dedication to stretching and calisthenics. Both guys routinely stretch between pitches while at bat and while in the field. At one point, the Jays showed a video of Kawasaki performing a handstand during pre-game stretching. As for the stretching, see what I mean?


Kawasaki had an outstanding at bat while I stood behind home plate. With two strikes, he fouled off at least five pitches until he drew a walk. (He finished 2-for-2 with a walk to boost his batting average to .364.) My favorite picture of him is this one:


Even though I’d bought a 500 Level ticket, I hadn’t quite made the trek up to the nosebleed seats just yet. In the bottom of the sixth, and with the Jays getting pummeled 5-0, I went up to the 500s and had this view of the video board …


… and this view of the field:


Remember my quest to find new things to photograph? I’ve never noticed it, but the foul poles at Rogers Centre (which are actually netting) are held in place by giant, crane-like arms:


I spent up until the middle of the ninth inning up in the 500s, and then slipped down to the 100 Level concourse to watch the Jays’ last at-bat. The Sox had tacked on two more runs to make the final score 7-0, which drops Toronto’s record to 6-9. What a disappointing start to the season. Fans are already panicking, and while that’s a little premature, it’s frustrating to see the team faring so poorly early on.

Nevertheless, I’ll be back at Rogers Centre for the final game of the series against the White Sox, and I can’t wait. I’ll be blogging about the game, and more about my stay at the Westin Harbour Castle, in the next day or two. If you’ve recently found this blog, please consider following me on Twitter to keep up to date with all my road trip plans and visit The Ballpark Guide. If you’re planning a baseball road trip of your own, my website has a ton of tips to help you make the most of your ballpark visits. If you find that my website has saved you a few bucks or increased your enjoyment of the game — or if you just enjoy reading about my travels, please consider making a small donation to help the cause. Thank you!

On the Road Again

By now, you may have read my blog post about my first two chilly games of the year at Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium. If not, feel free to check out the ginormous blog entry about that amazing day here.

I normally blog about upcoming road trips several days (or weeks) in advance, but this time, I thought it’d be fun to give everyone a little surprise. The plans for this road trip came together very quickly, and I’m excited to say that I’ll be in Toronto tonight and tomorrow night (April 17 and 18) to watch the Blue Jays host the Chicago White Sox at Rogers Centre:


For those who’ve followed this blog for a long time, you’ll know that I’ve visited Rogers Centre a number of times. I’ve been a Jays fan since I was old enough to understand baseball and Toronto is the closest MLB city to me by far. In fact, since I started The Ballpark Guide, I’ve watched the Jays play at home six times — twice in 2010, twice in 2011 and twice again in 2012. I’m glad to keep that streak intact.

I’m excited to get back to Rogers Centre this year to not only check out the exciting, new-look Jays, but to also document all the off-season changes at the park. Sure, any given park changes a bit from year to year, but as you probably know if you’ve been watching the Jays on TV, there’s an awesome standing-room area in the outfield in what used to be the Windows restaurant. Sampling delicious food is a big part of the baseball experience for me, and given that the Jays have sold two of the 10 best things I’ve eaten on my travels, I’m excited to see what other tasty treats I can find. I’m also pumped to try to catch a ball during batting practice, take a ton of photos and, of course, blog all about it here. As an added bonus, I’ll get to see R.A. Dickey pitch during the second game of my trip, too.

I’m also going to be staying in one of the city’s nicest hotels, and can’t wait to check it out and share those details, too. Its location promises to provide some outstanding views, so I’m pumped to see what it’s like. I don’t want to give away too much now, but I’ll have some details about it in my next blog post.

As always, thanks for reading.

Toronto Blue Jays – September 30

Guess what?

I’ve got one more baseball game from the summer of 2012 to write about. Like last year, I took a bit of a hibernation after the baseball season was over. It’s nice to take a break from things and I always find that in November, my website and blog traffic dip considerably. But, never fear! In addition to this post about my last game of the year, I’ve got a ton of off-season posts to fill the weeks between now and Opening Day.

If you read my last post, you’ll know that my brother and I caught the New York Yankees in town to play the Blue Jays on a Saturday. The next day, we were back at Rogers Centre for the series finale, which also marked the Jays final home game of 2012. We stayed with relatives just west of the city, and drove into Toronto bright and early on the Sunday:

We then took a long walk around the entire outside of the stadium. This is something I usually do, but this time, I took a photo every few steps. I’m in the process of making all the photos into a slideshow/video that I’ll soon post on my YouTube channel, so watch my Twitter account for that. It’s looking pretty neat.

When we finished the walk, we grabbed our tickets …

… and went right down to field level, where there wasn’t much action. I thought that because it was the team’s final home game, and also “Fan Appreciation Day,” there might be some guys signing, but that wasn’t the case:

After wandering around for a bit, we grabbed some food and went to our 100 Level seats in the outfield. This time, I got the Bill Cosby Triple Decker sandwich, which I ate last May during a game in Toronto. Last year, it was awesome. This year, the opposite was true. The big issue was that the sandwich was on the cold side; the meat was lukewarm at best, while the bread and cheese were actually cold. Add room temperature mustard and sauerkraut to the equation, and you’ve got one chilly sandwich. It was disappointing, given how much I enjoyed it last year, but that’s the chances you take sometimes. Here’s the sandwich:

My brother liked the foot-long hot dog he had the day before enough that he ordered another one. This time, however, he didn’t load it up quite as much, making it a little easier to eat:

When we finished eating, I grabbed this panorama to show the view from our section. In the show below, you can actually see the faint outline of the football field for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts (and that’s the extent of my wish to discuss the CFL):

If I’m going to buy a ticket and actually sit in that seat at Rogers Centre, I like the 100 Level outfield seat. The tickets are expensive given how far you are from home plate, but the sections toward the batter’s eye are sparsely populated, which allows you to stretch out.

Come to think of it, we had a good run-in with an usher, as is the norm in Toronto. Our tickets were on the aisle in section 140, but given that that particular area was crowded, we moved over into section 141, which was mostly empty. Instantly, an usher swarmed in on us and I flashed my ticket to show that while we weren’t in the right section, we were still in the correct price range. No big deal, right?

His response? “OK, but the second I see you acting up, I’m gonna make you go over the other section right away.” My brother actually laughed right out loud, and the usher scurried back to his usual standing spot to continue thinking about Dungeons and Dragons. Or at least that’s how he seemed.

From these seats, photos of home plate don’t tend to turn out too well, but the outfielders are well within range. Here are Ichiro, Curtis Granderson and Raul Ibanez:

And Jays outfielders Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis:

I met Gose and got his autograph last year in New Hampshire, so it was neat to see him as a Blue Jay in person.

The Jays repeated the same lack of magic as a day earlier, and ended up losing:

After the game, we made a quick stop in the team shop, where I bought an awesome player-used souvenir I’ll eventually share here, and then just sort of hung out and watched the stadium empty. I’ve always wanted to see how long I could linger after a game, and sure enough, we were able to stay for quite a while, until Rogers Centre looked like this:

And this, in panorama form:

Eventually, we were told to leave the concourse, and went outside where my brother snapped this photo of me:

As always, thanks for reading, and please follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the off-season. I’ve got a huge list of things I’ll blog about, including entries about my souvenirs from the summer, highs and lows, an updated top 10 food list, apparel I bought, a rundown of my press passes, and much, much more. I’ll also be sharing plans for 2013 road trips, because they aren’t that far away.

Toronto Blue Jays – September 29

Every fall, my brother and I take a road trip to watch an NFL game in a different city. We started the tradition a few years ago, and so far, we’ve been to Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland. Where possible, we add a second sporting event to our itinerary, and I’m always pushing for a baseball game. Last year, when we visited Cleveland to see the Browns, we also went to Progressive Field to see the Indians on Jim Thome Night.

This year, driving to the U.S. to watch football didn’t work with our schedules, so we came up with a great alternative — two days in Toronto to watch the Blue Jays host the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. I saw the Jays twice last season, but hadn’t been to a game yet in 2012. If my first Jays games of the year weren’t exciting enough, it was an added bonus to see the team in its new uniforms for the first time.

On our way to Toronto, we stopped at a sports store on the edge of the city to buy some shirts for the game. Because it was the end of the season, the Jays stuff was a) discounted and b) sparse. In fact, most of the adult shirts were size small, except there were plenty of these in all sizes:

I finally found two larges — Brandon Morrow and Brett Lawrie, and opted for the latter. I’ll have a photo of that shirt in a later blog entry, but you’ll also see me wearing that shirt in this post.

We got to Toronto about an hour and a half before first pitch, and parked a few blocks from the ballpark. Downtown Toronto is a nightmare for parking, and if you’re close to Rogers Centre, you can expect to pay $25 or $30 to park. (Not as bad as Fenway Park, but still.) The lot I’ve used for years charges exactly $5, and is roughly a five minute walk from the stadium. This view from the lot shows the CN Tower in the background, and if you aren’t familiar with Toronto, the stadium is directly at the base of the tower:

After parking, we cut through the lot and out to the street where this was our view:

Ideal parking, right?

I’ve been to Rogers Centre a million times, so unlike my usual baseball road trips, I didn’t need to document everything with my camera. Instead, I just took a few shots — like this one, looking up at the tower …

… before we picked up our tickets:

Since the gates had already opened, we zipped right inside and watched some of the pregame show with Jamie Campbell and former MLB catcher Gregg Zaun:

Then, we checked out the team shop and I’m glad we did. Since I visited last season, the Jays have added a memorabilia/game-used room, and if you know me, you’ll know this is right up my alley. The crown jewel of the room is the team’s back-to-back World Series trophies which, until now, weren’t available for the general public to see. Here’s me lurking behind them, wearing my new T-shirt:

The room had a bunch of other cool stuff, like game-used bats:

And Yunel Escobar’s hat from July 4. I didn’t inspect it for any non-MLB regulation lettering:

And a ton of game-used and game-issued jerseys:

I didn’t buy anything at the time, but I picked up something very cool for my collection the next day, and I’ll blog about that later on.

By now, the game was just about underway, and we decided to watch an inning from the concourse before getting some lunch. This is the view from the concourse just outside the team shop’s entrance:

From here, I was able to zoom in and get a photo of the guy on my T-shirt, Brett Lawrie:

After the top of the first inning, we decided to grab some food and find another place to sit. We’d bought 500 Level tickets for the game, but I shared one of my patented Rogers Centre tricks with my brother — find a spot behind the railing in the 100 Level concourse, grab two folding chairs and watch the action from there.

On our way around the concourse, we paused so that I could snap a photo of Derek Jeter:

And then, I hit the Quaker Steak & Lube concession for the famous chicken wings. I ate the wings last year, and they were just as good this year — although there were far fewer drumettes than last time. Still, they’re delicious, and for my money, one of the best things you can eat at Rogers Centre:

My brother opted for a foot-long hot dog and got it loaded with onions, cheese, hot peppers and baked beans, among other things:

As we had our lunch, we kept laughing as piece after piece of his hot dog’s toppings dropped to the floor. The loaded dog was just so large that it was practically impossible to eat. By the time he finished, this was the scene between his feet:

Now, I should say that I got special permission to take this photo.

Me: Do you mind if I take a photo of the mess on the floor? You know, for the blog.

Him: Sure, that’s cool.

Me: You aren’t worried that it’ll make you look, you know, like … a bit slobby?

(I should note that he did clean up the mess afterward like a responsible citizen.)

As for our makeshift seating, it was great. I love sitting at the railing at Rogers Centre. Our view was perfect …

… and right above and to our left, we could watch the game’s TV feed:

Despite not having an amazing camera, I could still get some decent shots of the infield:

(I’m not sure what Nick Swisher is doing here.)

And my favorite Yankee, Ichiro Suzuki:

Believe it or not, the Jays won convincingly, which was a welcome surprise. Late in the game, I snapped this panorama from our seats:

And shortly thereafter, got this one of the Jays celebrating the win:

Then, it was out to the pavilion in front of Gate 11 for a photo, which wrapped up a perfect day:

Less than 24 hours later, we were back at Rogers Centre to watch the Jays and Yankees again. I’ll have a blog post about that soon.

A Few Places I’ve Been

I’ve taken several thousand photos since I began traveling and compiling research for The Ballpark Guide in the summer of 2010. The vast majority of my photos focus on the elements of each ballpark I visit, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve missed getting photos of myself in most locations. I often travel alone, and while it’s possible to hold the camera at arm’s length to shoot myself, some of these photos don’t turn out that great.

That said, I’ve got a handful of photos taken at different locations that I’m posting below. Click the date to read my blog about the visit.)

The second ballpark I visited, back on July 17, 2010, was Auburn’s Falcon Park. While I was snapping shots of the front of the ballpark, the man who lives next door to the facility offered to take my shot:

Later that summer, I traveled to Cleveland for two games on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8. During the second game, I got a few autographs around the visitors dugout, and then had my photo taken by another fan while sitting on the Indians dugout:

On Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, my wife and I watched two Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre. My wife snapped this artsy shot of me hoping to catch a ball during batting practice …

… and a day later, took one of me along the fence during batting practice. I snagged two balls here:

I toured around Michigan in May 2011, and watched the second of two Detroit Tigers games on May 25. Unfortunately, this game was called because of the rain after a few innings. While the tarp was still on the field, an usher took my photo:

On June 27, I watched the Hagerstown Suns play at Municipal Stadium. Bryce Harper was hurt and didn’t play, but that didn’t stop me from finding his truck in the parking lot and taking a photo of myself in front of it:

Next, on July 2 and 3, I was in the nation’s capital to catch three Nationals games (July 2 was a doubleheader). Here’s a photo of me before the first game, down at field level:

And on the second day, up on a deck in the left field corner:

The third-last game I watched in 2011 was on July 31 at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Before entering the ballpark, my wife took a photo of me out front:

The Sea Dogs are the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and Hadlock Field is equipped with a mini green monster. During our visit, fans were able to play catch on the field before the game. Here’s me in front of the scoreboard:

And while throwing balls off the wall and catching them:

And pretending to relay them to the imaginary cut-off man. (I can’t lie.)

As always, thanks for reading. If you don’t do so already, check me out on Twitter.

Toronto Blue Jays – May 20

A day after my first game of the season in Toronto, I was set for game #2. This time, the opponent would be the Astros in both teams’ first interleague game of the season.

I bought a ticket in the 100 Level of the outfield of Rogers Centre:

And lined up first to get in. I was first in line:

When the gates opened 40 minutes later, I once again rushed to look for BP balls, but there were none to be found today. At the conclusion of BP, I took a tour around to look at the Jays team shop:

Then, grabbed the usual Quaker Steak & Lube basket of wings. They’re overpriced at $11 (what isn’t in Toronto?) but they’re delicious. You get 10 wings and seven of my 10 were drummettes, so there was lots to eat:

Meanwhile, Jo-Jo Reyes was in pursuit of his first win since 2008, and was pitching well:

He left with a lead, but Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco each laid eggs in relief, and the Jays managed to lose against one of the worst teams in baseball. Ugh.

Though the game ended on a low note, there was nothing that could dampen my excitement. In the morning, I would get up and drive to Lansing, MI, to watch the Jays A-ball team, the Lansing Lugnuts.

Check back soon to read about that adventure.

Look what I just received

A couple days ago, I went to the mailbox and saw a nondescript envelope addressed to me. I got the impression it was some sort of junk mail wanting me to sign up for a credit card, but I opened it anyway.

Instead of junk, it was this:

Awesome! I usually buy tickets at the box office before the game, but since there’s no shipping charge for tickets bought online, I figured I’d give myself a fun day at the mailbox.

This ticket goes well with this one, which arrived a few days earlier:

I bought low-end tickets for both games, and I’ll see how easy it is to move from section to section. I know what the ushers are like at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, but I’ve heard Detroit’s ushers at Comerica Park aren’t too bothersome. So, if I need a more expensive ticket, I’ll buy it for my second game in each city.

Toronto Blue Jays – August 11, 2010

A day after our first visit of the season to Toronto, we took the train to Rogers Centre for a second straight game against the Red Sox. Once again, we were visiting to take notes and photos for my website.

Toronto’s traffic is ridiculous, but getting to Rogers Centre is pretty easy if you use public transportation. We took the GO Train from the suburbs again, and it couldn’t have been easier. You get off the train at the downtown Union Station, which is at the foot of the CN Tower and a couple minutes’ walk from the stadium. Here’s the view when you come out of the Union Station walkway:
That’s the stadium, the foot of the tower and a little garden area.
Today, we bought 500 Level tickets for $14 each, which is a bit expensive considering how far you are from the action. Like many MLB teams, Toronto jacks up its prices for “premium” games, which mean you pay more when a good team is in town. Once we entered the stadium, we saw the batting practice screens were up again, so I’d renew my attempt to get a BP ball. My wife, as you can read here, got one ball in our first Jays game and I was shut out.
Though she got her ball in the 100 Level above Toronto’s left field bullpen, there was a lot more action in the left field corner, so we headed there early enough that the stadium’s fanatic guards weren’t deterring people from entering the good sections. I managed to secure a spot along the fence and patiently began waiting for balls to come my way:
My wife retreated about a dozen rows up into the second to avoid balls coming her way. When a line drive flew into her general area, she retreated up a few more rows. Before long, a roller came toward me and stopped pretty much below where I was standing. It was a few feet away from the wall, so I had to precariously hang my entire body below the wall and strettttcccchhhh until I could roll the ball toward me with my outstretched middle finger. Finally, I got it into my hand … ball #1!
A minute later, another line drive flew toward my wife, who quickly closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands. It bounced off a seat near her, and as three or four male ballhawks dove to the ground at her feet, she calmly bent down and emerged with her second ball of the series! We didn’t have long to celebrate, as a couple batters later, a screamer flew into our section, bounced off a seat and flew back toward the field. Somehow, I managed to barehand it, giving me my second ball. BP ended soon afterward, and we finished with four balls between us in two games!
Before we left the section in the left field corner, we noticed a total seating fail. Imagine buying a ticket for this seat?
We toured the concourse a bit, then began the long climb up to the 500 Level. Unlike Cleveland, which has steps, Rogers Centre is one ramp after another. Are they are dark and dreary as they appear below? Yes:
Once we climbed into our nosebleed seats, I took my first in-stadium ticket shot:
Below is a look at the different styles of seats behind home plate. From left to right (in other words, from closest to farthest from the plate) you’ve got plush red seats, then blue padded backs and seats, then non-padded plastic seats. The dark blue seats in the second deck have foam seats, but don’t have padded seat backs:
Rogers Centre’s upper deck is railing hell:
It’s also dizzyingly high:
But it’s got a nice view, as evidenced by this panorama:
From our seats, we could see the TV broadcast booth. That’s former Jay Pat Tabler and former Jay Buck Martinez:
Because Rogers Centre suffers from poor attendance, a lot of the upper deck is closed to fans. You can still wander around the concourse, but it’s pretty much a ghost town:
I did, however, sneak close enough to the Jumbotron to be able to spy on the rich people watching in their private dining area:
Here’s a panorama from about as close to dead center as I could get:
Remember yesterday’s entry and the mention about the amazing nachos we saw advertised? Here they are in all their glory:
We went back down to the 100 Level to buy the nachos and decided to watch the rest of the game from down there. The ushers won’t let you near any of the sections, yet there are empty chairs along the rail directly behind each section, so we pulled up two chairs and watched the rest of the game from here:
The photo doesn’t do the view justice; it wasn’t bad at all, and you could stretch your legs.
As for the game? Total snoozefest. The Red Sox won 10-1, led by Bill Hall’s two home runs. The conclusion of this game concluded our six-day, six-game roadtrip.
Two more 2010 games left to recap … Double-A New Hampshire and Short-Season A Tri-City. Check back soon for details about my exciting visits to each of those ballparks.