Rogers Center overhaul aims to provide a ‘different experience’ for Blue Jays fans

Fans taking in a Toronto Blue Jays game at Rogers Center this spring will have an entirely new experience.

Significant progress of the ballpark’s major overhaul was unveiled to media Tuesday, with significant changes made to the 500 level and lower outfield decks. Phase 1 of the renovations is focused on spectators, while the second step — slated for next off-season — is concerned with behind-the-scenes and players-only areas.

Anuk Karunaratne, executive vice-president of baseball operations, said Phase 1 is focusing on two main issues at Rogers Centre.

“One is bringing the city into the ballpark,” said Karunaratne, standing on protective plates covering the third-base line. The second is bringing fans closer to the action and also focusing on diversifying the sets of experiences that we offer in the ballpark.

So really thinking about the outfield as a new way of enjoying a Blue Jays game that’s not sitting in your seat.

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All the seats in the 500 level have been torn out, with the installation of replacements now underway. The lower outfield decks have been removed, with new ones being built lower to the field and the home and away bullpens being raised.

“As much as we loved our old building, there really was a blue sea of ​​blue seats,” said Marnie Starkman, executive vice-president of baseball operations, while standing in the 500s by the only section that has had its new seats installed.

100 level bars

“Our team did the best job they could but really, this outfield district is going to provide fans with such a better opportunity to travel around the ballpark and experience a different experience.”

Drastically changing the outfield seating has allowed the Blue Jays to create four new areas they call “neighborhoods.”

On the 100 level in center field, behind the batter’s eye, will be a bar area called The Stop. When Rogers Center was first designed in the 1980s it was supposed to have a transit station in the stadium’s north end. Although those plans fell by the wayside, the name will persist as a bar that showcases the many different neighbors that Toronto’s transit system runs through.

On the 100 level in left field, members of a construction team work on renovations of the Rogers Center in Toronto.
Phase 1 of the Rogers Center renovations in Toronto is focused on spectators, while the second step — slated for next off-season — is concerned with behind-the-scenes and players-only areas. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Catch Bar will be next to The Stop in right field, above the visitor’s bullpen. It will put an emphasis on socializing and classic cocktails with trendy food options like Montreal smoked meat, Cuban sandwiches, and brioche pretzel bites.

Above in the 500s will be the Corona Rooftop Patio. A social area with no seats will be a patio to take in Toronto’s impressive skyline and have a drink while watching a game.

Finally, over left field will be Park Social, a family-oriented two-tier area designed to replicate sitting in one of the city’s many parks.

“We’re trying to get fans that don’t normally want to come watch nine innings of baseball to the ballpark,” said Starkman. “You can have a great time if you’re not a crazy, Blue Jays fan and we hope they’ll be converted to a Blue Jays fan.”

Unfortunately for collectors, most of the old seats torn from the stadium have been scrapped. A select few were salvageable and donated to other ballparks. The Blue Jays confirmed that in the new 100 decks as many seats as possible will have cupholders, a feature the old stands lacked.

Fans want local, better food and drink options

The Blue Jays said the field’s new dimensions will be released during spring training in March. By closing the gap between the bullpen and stands, however, the outfield walls appear to be significantly higher.

In 2022, CBC Toronto posted on the Blue Jays subreddit to ask fans what they wanted to see. Some of their ideas included:

  • Replacing artificial turf with natural grass.
  • Bringing in more local and better food and beverage options.
  • Improving seat direction, spacing and comfort.
  • Celebrating local baseball history through art, murals and memorials.
  • Renovating the dome to bring it in a more natural light.

Some commenters were hoping to see the center revert back to the original SkyDome name and the return of the “Ice Cold Beer Guy” at games.

A member of a construction team works during the Rogers Centre's major overhaul in Toronto.
Progress of the Rogers Centre’s major overhaul was unveiled to the media in Toronto on Tuesday, with significant changes made to the 500 level and lower outfield decks. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto resident Matt Marek says making way for statues of iconic Jays players like Joe Carter or depicting moments like José Bautista’s bat flip in 2015 would hit a home run with fans.

“I think we could get rid of it [Ted] Rogers statue and bring in some old players,” said Marek, 40, who’s been a fan since he was a kid.

“I think fans would love that. Fans have been vocal about that, and I think we deserve it too.”

Burlington resident Ben Eastman also wants to have more activities to do or things to see beyond the actual game, as the stadium is currently “lacking in a little bit of soul.”

What’s also needed, he added, is a re-think of the stadium’s layout. Cooling stations to combat heat waves and improved accessibility in seating and washrooms would help modernize the building, he says.

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