For me, it was the moment a half-naked fan (the wrong half) decided it was a good idea to try ripping a urinal off the wall in an upper-tier bathroom, flooding a section of the Rogers Centre and shutting down an elevator bank during the runup to the 2015 Blue Jays’ playoff run.
As we trudged up a decrepit concrete stairwell buried inside the outdated concrete pillbox the Rogers Centre had become, you knew it was time for a change.
Five years on, those very profitable winds have begun to blow. As first reported Friday by The Globe and Mail’s Andrew Willis, team owner Rogers and developers Brookfield are proposing to tear down the old thing.
It will be replaced by the most fantabulous trick in any sports conglomerate’s act – building a multipurpose real estate development (including new stadium) where once only a stadium existed.
Keep your eyes on the city council chamber, ladies and gentlemen, and watch them turn this worthless pile of prefab junk with a leaking roof and no drainage into billions of dollars. Ta daaaa.
And they don’t even own the land. It’s … it’s … magic!
There will be plenty of time – and I mean endless amounts of time – to argue whether the rich should get richer here. (Hint: They will.)
But in the interim, we can at least agree that the Rogers Centre must be destroyed. In this, it is like the Death Star, except not cool. It’s like the Death Star if Darth Vader got assigned there and said, “Nope. Not signing there. That artificial turf will kill my lightsabre game.”
Still, I presume the place has some admirers. Maybe you got married there, or got hit in the head with a foul ball and still have the bump. It’s okay to feel a nostalgic pull toward the Rogers Centre. It does profoundly call into question your sense of aesthetics – please, please, do not decorate anything – but it’s okay.
For the sake of those people, let’s do a Rogers Centre ‘for’ and ‘against’ list.
For: It has a moving roof.
Against: The roof no longer works properly. Plus, it has holes. The place is ugly as sin. When the roof is closed, it’s more humid than the Amazon in there. When it’s open, half those in attendance cook like eggs on hot asphalt. The team is functionally playing on concrete, which is hard on the knees. It’s too big, so it’s usually half-empty. Bad amenities. Zero atmosphere. Players hate it, especially free-agent players. Other than that, it’s great.
Sure, it had a moment. But we’re being literal here. It was just a moment.
When it opened in ’89, it was state of the art. Three years later, Baltimore debuted Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the SkyDome was already a dinosaur.
When people go to a game, they want that experience – homey, comforting, wide-open spaces and the murmur of the crowd. Something more green than grey. A lot of sky. Three-and-a-half hours of baseball can be – let’s face it – boring. So it should at least be pretty.
You sit in the stands in Baltimore (or any of the other throwback stadiums that copied it in Cleveland, Washington, San Francisco, etc., etc.) and you can see and feel those cities laid out around you. Those buildings are smaller than the Dome, and simultaneously much bigger.
In order to get the weather-proofing right, they built the SkyDome like a medium-security prison. No open-topped park in baseball feels so claustrophobic. Noise-wise, it sounds as if you are at the bottom of a well. If ballparks are meant to summon up imagery from The Natural or Field of Dreams, this one brings to mind Escape From Alcatraz.
Years back, I recall standing with a bunch of other baseball writers deep underneath Yankee Stadium – the old one – waiting for an elevator. That park was also decrepit, but the walls bled history and it was not closed to the city. You could peek out over the wall in left and see Manhattan in the distance.
That night, they’d just postponed a game because of rain. We were all chomping to begin our unscheduled evening off. As we waited, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman sidled up alongside us.
“You guys from Toronto?”
“Sure wish we had one of those roofs,” Cashman said, grinning. “But we just can’t afford it.”
I don’t think he meant it as an insult, but that’s how we took it. Yankee Stadium had Monument Park, the short porch in right and Babe Ruth had played there. We had a piece of crap with a tarp you could pull over the top of it.
It didn’t hurt. I mean, I didn’t design the place. But it stirred in me something sportswriters try to avoid – hometown pride.
Whether or not you are a fan of the game, baseball stadiums matter to a big city. They matter far more than hockey or basketball arenas, all of which look the same from the outside (and, increasingly, the inside).
A great ballpark is magnificent from any angle. If the location is right, you can see it from many blocks away and from the air. They are the modern, secular equivalent of cathedrals. Because while I presume most residents of Barcelona don’t attend mass at La Sagrada Familia, I also presume the same people feel a measure of pride when they look at it.
A ballpark can be the defining architectural feature of a place. As such, we all ought to care at least a little that it is done right (which is not to suggest that we should all pay for it).
The SkyDome/Rogers Centre was a bold venture and, as it turned out, a failed one. Aesthetically, it is indefensible. Toronto would be better off if it had dug a big hole in the ground and called it the Less Grand Canyon.
So it is impossible to do the knee-jerk thing – argue that what was should always stay that way.
If the city, its residents and its planners are going to invest their energy into arguing about this project, let them ensure this is being done less like a Trump and more like a Borgia.
Our collective goal should be ensuring that producing something beautiful is the first, second and third priority of any new stadium, and that profit figures somewhere further down the line.