TORONTO – Excited fans raced through the gates at Rogers Centre, with some having to double back because they forgot their free giveaway, too eager to get their first look at the renovated ballpark.
The Blue Jays beat the Detroit Tigers 9-3 on Tuesday in Toronto’s home opener, making it the first time the stadium had been open to the public since new bars, restaurants and other fan-centric amenities were added to the stands overlooking the outfield.
“It’s remarkable,” said Neil Quenneville, who had taken the train in from Windsor, Ont., to see the home opener as a birthday present for his 12-year-old son. “They’ve done a great job here, really playing up to the fans here and I’m really enjoying it.”
The Quennevilles had just arrived in one of the new “outfield districts” at the downtown Toronto ballpark.
Those new sections include Park Social, a space on the 500 level overlooking left field. At the same level but above right field is the Corona Rooftop Patio. Directly below that is The Catch, a bar space perched above the visitors’ bullpen, while a bar next to that called The Stop overlooks centre field. Schneiders Porch, an open-air hotdog concession at the right-field level of the 200s, has also been added.
Finally, the WestJet Flight Deck in the 200 level has been refreshed with retro arcade games and a new brewery-style menu.
“You’ve heard the stories all throughout the off-season of how it’s going to look so being here, in person, seeing it is an unreal experience,” said Grayson Ciulla of Peterborough, Ont.
The new-look outfield was showcased during a lengthy pre-game ceremony that saw Hall of Fame inductee Fred McGriff throw out the first pitch.
Individual awards were presented to Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk (Silver Slugger), closer Jordan Romano (Tip O’Neill), and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Gold Glove) as part of the festivities.
Romano, who grew up in nearby Markham, Ont., as a Blue Jays fan, said he was also excited about the changes to Rogers Centre.
“I love it, actually,” said Romano, gazing out at the renovated areas from the home dugout. “It’s a nice touch that I think the field needed.”
A noticeable difference for players, both on the Blue Jays and visiting teams, is that the outfield wall has been moved closer to home plate and lowered in places. Fans now sit at the same level as the bullpens as well, meaning players can have conversations — friendly or not — with the Toronto faithful.
“I love it — at home. The fans are great here,” said Romano. “It’s just going to be more encouragement than on the road where I’m getting chirped.
“I think (opposing relievers) will be able to feel the fans a little bit there, for sure.”
Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who played his first game in Toronto as a member of the Blue Jays on Tuesday, was also impressed with the substantial changes.
“It’s beautiful. They did a great job, phenomenal job,” he said after hitting a home run in the win. “Everyone was blown away by it and the players were talking in the clubhouse after batting practice.
“The Blue Jays knocked it out of the park. That’s what they do.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2023.
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