FORWARD TO THE PAST
If you want to experience baseball at its best, forget the space age and stick with what?s timeless
When you look around Toronto?s Rogers Centre on a sunny weekend afternoon in April, with the Blue Jays and their opponents sealed off from the blue-skied exterior, your eyes take in the dreary sight of concrete, turf of a wretched yellowish-green colour, and, not coincidentally, fans all around with long faces. With the closed roof serving as a wet blanket moodwise, who could possibly be blamed for not having a good time inside these drab surroundings when it?s obvious that the true baseball fan would rather bathe in the open air than sit through the artificial conditions of what Lloyd Moseby called a ?shopping mall with a baseball field.? The Shaker was onto something since this is hardly the type of atmosphere to inspire and enliven.
Inexplicably, any temperature below 20C is considered too harsh to expose fans and players to the austere climes of outdoor baseball, and so we are made to spend the next three hours inside, trapped underneath a dark metallic roof. Indoor baseball is a long day to be sure, but if the temperature climbs up to, say, 23, and you think this should surely be enough to pop the lid open, then you?re probably getting ahead of yourself. Slow down because the wind, they?ll tell you, is too strong on this day, or there?ve been storm clouds spotted over central Michigan making their way east, or the humidity will make the plastic seats dangerously sticky. There?s almost always a reason, always an excuse to keep you from tasting the fresh air.
And so you?ll be trapped inside on this otherwise gorgeous April afternoon, like on so many others before it. Of course, big-league players have already endured Toronto?s northern climate over thirteen Aprils(from 1977 to 1989) at Exhibition Stadium without ending up like the Jack Nicholson character at the end of The Shining. So outdoor baseball in April can be done again in T.O., but in today?s risk-averse culture, anything that entails any degree of potential discomfort or leaving people to deal with a stiff breeze is to be avoided at all costs lest someone complain.
But baseball Rogers Centre-style is still baseball, isn?t it ? Clinically speaking, yes, after all, there are bases on this field of mostly unsightly rubber. There?s a mound, an outfield wall, dugouts, . . . but it sure doesn?t feel much like a park, and so you?ll just have to make do with something that dubiously resembles the game most of us came to know as baseball. Missing here is almost everything we?ve come to know and love about baseball: the sweet smell of the grass, the gentle waft of hot dogs, that outdoor air, the red dirt, etc., etc… This is the true baseball experience, but it?s not to be found often enough ? if at all ? in Toronto.
Having paid baseball pilgrimage to Fenway and Wrigley, it will make you wax poetic about outdoor baseball and crave watching a game with open skies overhead. This is possible only when a park offers you enough of a glimpse of the city buildings and a partial view of the scenery beyond the outfield to not make you feel trapped and it does this by not closing off the upper tiers around the outfield and by building an upper deck that does not stretch all the way into the stratosphere. Keep it low and keep it open are pretty good guideposts for any architect designing the next great ballpark. One more thing I?d slip into the blueprint: use more steel than concrete, like they did in Safeco Field and you have the makings of baseball beauty.
While Wrigley it ain?t, Rogers Centre can give fans the semblance of a real ballyard when they decide to roll back the roof, especially during afternoon games when the sun is allowed to pour in and fill the place with some much-needed life. As the light floods in, the grimness is lifted and fans can watch baseball be played outdoors. The sun?s warmth does feel good and is an instant improvement, but there?s still that patchy turf field to look at with its visible seam lines and unevenly dispersed black rubber sand. As eyesores go, the Rogers Centre turf can be described as something between ghastly and pure macabre. The original turf may have been less forgiving, but, for all its faults, it was a deep and solid green colour, unlike the current field turf. While turf may have been fashionable when the SkyDome first opened in 1989, it rather quickly fell into disrepute since then in the baseball world as all but two teams are left with this outdated artificial playing surface today. The shift towards grass surfaces has baseball purists smiling, but it?s also a development that has left the Rogers Centre behind the curve and its fans missing out on the true promise of baseball the way it was meant to be experienced ? well, for another three and a half seasons, that is, until grass finally makes its much-awaited debut in time for the 2018 season.
2018 is still a ways off in the horizon, but we can hope by then that the newly installed grass field will help bring baseball in Toronto back to its roots by finally parting ways with the synthetic and embracing the natural. The grass experiment at Rogers Centre has already been tried a number of times over the years for occasional soccer matches with mixed results, but the Rogers Centre grounds crew has a few years to figure out exactly how to make baseball playable on non-artificial pastures. It?s definitely a start !