Toronto Blue Jays fans can expect new ways to experience a baseball game live this season, after the first phase of renovations at Rogers Centre were unveiled Thursday.
The new features were revealed following a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, along with Rogers chairman Edward Rogers and CEO Tony Staffieri. The Blue Jays are currently on a 10-game road trip to start their season, due to the ballpark renovations.
“We’ll try to create experiences for every type of fan, not just one type of fan. We’re going to get our fans closer to our players, probably closer to the visiting players than they want, but that’s OK,” said Shapiro ahead of the ceremony.
“We’re going to allow them to connect with each other and with our fans in ways they never have before … an opportunity to modernize fan experience.”
All 500-level seats have been replaced largely to make room for open social spaces, including the family-oriented Park Social over left field, a colourful and childlike area designed to replicate sitting in one of the city’s many parks. Another notable new feature in the 500s is the Corona Rooftop Patio, a spacious social area which will allow fans to take in Toronto’s impressive skyline and have a drink while watching a game.
Lower down, the stadium’s outfield walls and bullpens have been raised, meaning relief pitchers will be warming up within metres of fans. The Catch Bar in the 100 level hangs right above the visitor’s bullpen.
When asked if there were any security concerns surrounding the proximity and access of fans to players, senior manager of project management for the Blue Jays Sanj Perera said they have increased their security control.
“To say there won’t be heckling, that’s probably not the fair thing to say,” Perera said. “But we’re confident that we’ve got a good group of fans in Toronto and everyone’s going to abide by the rules.”
By closing the gap between the bullpen and stands, the outfield walls appear significantly higher. The lower outfield decks have also been removed, with new ones built lower to the field.
“The outfield was very symmetrical before. We’ve now raised most of the outfield,” said Perera. “We’ve done a lot of modelling. We believe that it’s going to stay net-neutral. We’re not expecting any major changes in terms of playability.”
Drastically changing the outfield seating has allowed the Blue Jays to create the new “Outfield District,” featuring five “neighbourhoods” that encompass the rooftop patio, park and bars, as well as a 100 level bar area called The Stop in centre field.
The Stop is an ode to Rogers Centre’s history, as it was first designed in the 1980s to hold a transit station in the stadium’s north end. Although those plans fell through, the name will persist as a bar that showcases the many different neighbourhoods that Toronto’s transit system runs through.
The new Outfield District also comes with the introduction of a variety of different foods, intended to reflect the diversity of Toronto’s fan base. They include cultural offerings like Banh Mi and tacos, as well as new twists on classic ball game fare, like the much-anticipated poutine hotdog. A new “Tap N’ Go” automated shop will let fans quickly grab a beverage or snack, without having to wait in long lines and potentially miss gameplay.
The WestJet Flight Deck in the 200 level has been refreshed with retro arcade games and a new brewery-style menu.
The Blue Jays have already introduced new $20 general admission tickets for the new Outfield District, though single game tickets provide fans with a reserved bowl seat in addition to access to the outfield areas.
This completed first phase of renovations, which began in October 2022, focused on spectators and the second step — slated for next off-season — is concerned with behind-the-scenes and players-only areas.
Perera said that Phase 1, while successful, was challenging because the major overhaul was done on a tight schedule.
“We will continue to work with our partners to get the best schedule, best sequencing, best phasing, and move that into Phase 2,” he said. “There’s a lot of work on Phase 2.”
The entire multi-year renovation project comes with a price tag of approximately $300 million, according to a media handout.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2023.
Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press