A lot changes in 21 years.
The stadium I have come to know is likely gone. I had hoped this time would come for years, as I have frequently maligned the experience of watching baseball in a deserted concrete tomb. But now that we are here, I have some mixed feelings. I should probably offer a disclaimer at this point. What you are about to read is not complaining about the experience of watching baseball in Toronto this upcoming season. I can’t recall a spring where I had more unrestrained excitement for the season to start than right now. But I did want to take a moment and offer a fond farewell (hopefully for a good long time) to the past decade of Blue Jays baseball in the SkyDome/Rogers Centre.
If you have been one of the dedicated Jays fans who has spent countless hours of their life the past 10-15 years in a hard plastic blue seat until October rolls around, you know you have wanted more. You remember September games with the Minnesota Twins in town where it was dead quiet and you could hear every word of some drunken jackass heckling the home team. Or the insanity of the 500 level during the $2 Tuesdays promotion where you felt out of place for simply paying attention to the game instead of the shirtless university kid pretending to be held back by his friends after getting popcorn thrown at him for 4 innings. Or the experience of having to convince a casual fan friend to come to a game (even with free tickets) and getting told “Maybe. Well, who are they playing? Is it anyone decent?”
The games were always fun, well…almost always, but the experience of baseball in Toronto left much to be desired. Those days are gone and we can be grateful for that. But this change is not without sacrifice. So let’s say a few goodbyes.
Goodbye easy tickets to important games. We saw that with the home opener.
Goodbye being able to just wander the stadium and pick your seat. Sitting four rows from the field when you only paid $14 for a 500 level ticket was something I clearly never deserved, but it gave me an appreciation for the game I could never have gotten in section 523.
Goodbye beer stations without line ups. Although, my liver/stomach will probably benefit from the restraints provided by waiting.
Goodbye fan pass. We have already seen its use significantly restricted in recent years, and it is probably wishful thinking to imagine it being around much longer. But the incredible value in essentially having 80 home games at less than the price of a coffee per game still blows me away.
Goodbye to a certain, admittedly delusional, sense of self-importance. When there were 13,000 people at the stadium there was a part of me that felt important for being there. That I was somehow special for being one of the few who still supported the team through everything and that when things did turn around and the Jays were a contender that it would be more satisfying. That I would have some special status as a “true fan.”
That last one is complete nonsense of course. Yet you still see many fan complaints rooted in a version of it. “I’ve been at every home opener the past 20 years and I couldn’t get a ticket this year!” Or the constant griping by a certain fraction of season ticket holders who never seem to feel they are put on enough of a pedestal. Or my personal favourite, the condemnation of the “bandwagon fan.”
2013 is going to be the year of the bandwagon fan and it is going to be nice to hear some real noise in the Dome. Sure, there will be grumbling about some of the new people coming to the stadium, but get used to it. More than that, celebrate it. Enjoy Jose Reyes (and his soon to be $22 million annual salary)? Thank the bandwagon. Want Josh Johnson signed to an extension? Better keep the bandwagon happy. Hate the wave? Well you are really going to be out of luck because the bandwagon loves it and that nonsense is going to be in full swing by the second inning.
True believer fans matter a little less. They have our money. They know they will, by all evidence to date, continue to get our money. Paul Beeston wants new money, and he wants it now.
“Last season over 4 million fans attended Blue Jays games, an all-time record.”
I want this record to crumble because I want expensive players. For that reason, I am gladly willing to let the recent experience of going to a Jays game die. Laid to rest in the memory of the concrete tomb.