This past June, Rogers Centre celebrated its 30th anniversary. Unveiled in 1989 as a state-of-the-art multi-use facility, it boasted the largest Jumbotron of its era and encapsulated the “everything to everyone” mantra of professional sports stadiums during the 80s and early 90s.
Skydome also ushered in the end of an era of multi-use stadiums and it’s one of the last of its kind. Four years later, Camden Yards was constructed in 1992 and set forth the new era of retro ballparks; smaller, distinctive and much more conducive to an intimate ballpark experience.
At 27 years old, Camden Yards barely shows its age. The stadium formerly known as Skydome didn’t future proof itself quite as well and it’s very apparent the facility was built during the heyday of Milli Vanilli.
In any other scenario, the merits of building a brand new stadium would be up for debate, but the Blue Jays already have the ideal location on prime real estate near Toronto’s waterfront. In the meantime, the club is working with the concrete bones the Rogers Centre already has.
This year, the Blue Jays made substantial renovations to the 100 and 200 level concourses; the blue and white facings are brighter and the refresh has lightened up cavernous areas of the ballpark. Anecdotally, the concourses look much better this year. Despite an affinity for those old Skydome gate number signs, the revamp on those gate signs on the stadium’s exterior is a noted improvement, as well.
The team dialled back their prices on concessions, they’re offering five-dollar beers and doing everything within their power to appeal to a fan base that has witnessed the on-field product steadily decline since 2017. From an operations perspective, the Jays can’t control how the team performs, but at least they can control every other aspect of the fan experience.
Even with these changes, the Blue Jays have done everything they possibly can to liven up a 30-year-old stadium without making drastic renovations. A major overhaul has been bandied about for years and the club recognizes they need to make big changes to Rogers Centre to bring it into the 21st century.
Mark Shapiro sat down with BNN Bloomberg and discussed the future of the stadium and dropped a few hints about what might be in store for the 30-year-old ballpark on Blue Jays Way.
“We have some things in store for next year which may even have a bigger impact on fan experience which I’m not going to divulge right now. We’re still planning, but it will affect every minute of every game — put it that way — if we’re able to finish it.
In the short term, we’re committed to continuing to improve the building and improving the fan experience and focusing on everything we can control. In the longer term, there are some other plans that we’re continuing to work through with Rogers but we’re trying to be really careful and make sure we don’t just do something, but we get it right for this fan base for the long haul.”
For the most part, it’s the same non-committal statement about upcoming renovations, but the first bit is extremely intriguing and provides the most insight (albeit very little) into what the Blue Jays are cooking up for Rogers Centre renovations. And this isn’t four or five years down the road, either; Shapiro outlined this could be ready as early as the 2020 season.
“It will affect every minute of every game” is the key quote there and could mean any number of things. Given how large in scale and the short time frame the club would have to complete any overhauls, I doubt it’s anything extremely large in scale.
But what type of renovation would affect every minute of every game?
Hat tip to @The_Road_Guy for throwing a few ideas out there in the first place, but the first possibility could be the long-rumoured idea of installing a grass field at the Rogers Centre. The last anyone heard of a natural turf being installed came with a research study back in 2016 when the Blue Jays tasked the University of Guelph into discovering whether it was even feasible if grass could be grown within the current infrastructure.
This was the most recent update from the Blue Jays front office back in December, courtesy of Scott Mitchell from TSN:
I was that guy today. The guy from the past who asks if the grass-in-the-Rogers-Centre dream is dead.
Shapiro: “Grass is preferable. No debate there. But to retrofit with drainage, lighting … what it would take to keep it alive … it would be the tens of millions.”#BlueJays
— Scott Mitchell (@ScottyMitchTSN) December 19, 2018
There was never a definitive “yes” or “no”, but talk of grass at Rogers Centre fizzled out over the past few years, so one has to assume that possibility is dead and gone. Besides, it’s difficult to imagine the Blue Jays digging up the concrete at Rogers Centre, setting up the drainage and the lighting infrastructure in time for the beginning of the 2020 season.
The other interesting possibility which @The_Road_Guy raised was a reconfiguration of the outfield fences. In theory, that seems like something that’s simple to do; either move back or bring forward the outfield walls and lower the fences in left or right field to allow for outfielders to bring back home runs.
This is where we get into extreme navel-gazing territory, but a few other theories include some sort of a glass portion of the Rogers Centre roof or a new, larger video screen to replace the current JumboTron. It’s a stretch to say those theories fit under the “every minute of every game” requirement and are much less feasible, anyway.
The “if we’re able to finish it” caveat from Shapiro indicates that the Blue Jays might be pushing to get this project ready for the 2020 season. It’s difficult to fathom the team completing a large-scale renovation in a short six-month window while continuing to keep the details relatively secret.
If a natural turf is off the table and it isn’t an outfield wall reconfiguration at Rogers Centre, what else could Shapiro be referring to for this large-scale renovation? It’s exciting to ponder what the club has in mind, but as Shapiro mentioned in that interview with BNN Bloomberg, the team wants to “get it right” in their meticulous plans to overhaul the stadium.