SW19 (2009)Â : The Skydome is now known as the Rogers Centre. You can well imagine the fun I would have had with a title if I’d written this article today.
Inbetween the Villa orgasm convention and the Southampton wrist-slitting exercise, SW19 decided to forgoe all that un-necessary suffering (what – you expected me to slit my wrists as well? Fuck that for a game of soldiers) and instead went to Toronto. Actually, to be more specific, the Skydome – where the editor was to partake in an evening of culture, entertainment and quite a bit of fact finding for the benefit of the SW19’s ARMY viewing public. That and having to take out a mortgage to cover the cost of beer in Canada.
The event in question was the Major League Baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays (who won the World Series in 1994 I think) and the Baltimore Orioles, who at the time were going into a losing streak that would in English soccer cause the manager to be sacked, player turmoil and ex-stalwarts of the team in question taking the greenback to offer their words of “wisdom”. Sorry, I’m being cynical.
Anyway, this was my first ever baseball game, although I have been to an NCAA ice hockey game (Boston College vs University of New Hampshire if you must know), so I knew what to expect. Kind of.
Anyway, let’s get the boring shit out of the way first : construction of the Skydome started in 1986, it was finished in 1989, although it certainly doesn’t look 11 years old. It has a big roof on it, and was the first of its kind anywhere. It was the prototype for the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, amongst many others. It can hold 55,000 for baseball, 59,000 for CFL and NFL games (thanks to removable seating). It can hold 8 jumbo jets and has hotels and a Hard Rock cafe built into it. Anyway, now that’s all out of the way let us get onto the match day experience, MLB style….
The main thing to bear in mind about Skydome is its location : to put it in perspective, if you take the centre of London as being Pall Mall, and imagine Wembley stadium being built in Green Park or in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, then you’ve got the location of the Skydome exactly right. You can literally walk from the centre of Toronto to the arena. That said, when you get there the most imposing thing about the Skydome is the CN Tower right next to it (and if you want dimensions of that, get a Toronto guide book).
Indeed, the outside of the Skydome is not that imposing : it does not appear to be much bigger in external size than say the Stadium of Light, or even Millwall’s ground (whilst the Skydome is much taller than the New Den, the circumference isn’t exactly that much different). The other thing that strikes you is the car parking, or rather lack of it. The Skydome has some car-parking but not as much as you would expect – about 2,000 cars if you count the use of the Convention Centre next door.
Again, being based in the centre of Toronto there is no need for mass car parking space, as most people wisely use Toronto’s excellent transport system. When you consider that there is even less car-parking around Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, it makes you wonder if the future of stadia is to be located in built up areas with less emphasis on how many cars you can get in. Anyway, enough of what it looks like outside, inside is a far different matter.
Now, I’ve been to loads of different stadia in my time, but the Skydome beats the shit out of all of them combined. Not just in actual design but in the very manner in which it operates. When you walk in, you get the obligatory program sellers, selling an over-glossy program for $5 CDN. Nothing unusual there, only when you buy it you get a free pencil to write in the team changes, scorecard etc. Can you imagine any football team in the UK giving you something to write in where Martin Andresen is going to play this week? OK, so it has Blue Jays stamped on it, but if you’re being honest, it’s the little things like that can make so much difference (can you believe I’m excited about being given a free pencil? How sad….).
The actual concourse area of the lower deck of the Skydome is something else as well. First of all, it’s actually roomy – how often have you felt uncomfortable at HT at the back of the Holmesdale? And I’m not referring to the usually toilet second half performances either.
Secondly, there is absolutely no chance of anyone going hungry or thirsty – there are about 10 different food outlets all serving different (and edible) stuff, from pizzas, to burgers, to subs (submarine sandwiches, for the uninitated) and probably everything else in between. Beer is also in plentiful supply – as well as the mandatory Budweiser, there is also Labatts Blue, Molson Canadian as well as some local specialities. Plus Boddingtons and Strongbow. Yes, you really did read Boddingtons and Strongbow.
There are some seriously nice touches around, for example when you buy a beer, you get a lid on it. Try asking for one of those next time you’re in a British soccer game. There are loads of souvenir stalls, selling mainly Blue Jays stuff, though you can get stuff from other teams as well – even spotted a Baltimore shirt in there. Strange I know, but remember, WFC has been known to sell scarves of Man U whenever we played them. They obviously want you to enjoy coming to the Skydome – not only can you buy film and disposable cameras from conveniently located vending machines, but you can practise your baseball throwing skills at a specially constructed ball-pen for a dollar a lob (literally). Can’t see a soccer-related game happening at WFC, you would never get Carl Cort off it. And you can bung your brats into a supervised playpen – all right, creche – paying for it all via use of ATM machines dotted around the place. Sounds impressive doesn’t it?
Anyway, onto the game. I found my seat, beer in hand (licensing laws in Canada are far more relaxed than in the UK when it comes to sports) where the view is unsurprisingly excellent. However, as the photos on this page will testify, it was pretty sparse. In fact, out of a capacity of 55,000, only 15,000 turned up. This is not an unusual occurance, as all US sports and the vast majority of teams are suffering the same.
Part of the reason for this is the high ticket prices – my seat cost me $35 CDN, which although for me is significantly less than watching us play Watford is actually quite prohibitive to most locals. Just imagine paying 35 quid to watch us and you can understand why crowds are so low. That said, starting at 7.05pm on a workday isn’t exactly a good time to start a game, no matter where you are – indeed, many people were still coming in during the third innings, including one guy in an England soccer tracksuit top. Serious.
As a result the atmosphere was less than electric – I considered doing a Graham Rix related chant, but I don’t think Canadians would understand why I would use the term “paedophile” in a song. They had the famous roof up, which to be honest when the game is on you would never know it is up. It is only taken off when the temperature reaches above 75F outside, and it’s sunny (or it isn’t raining), so for most of the time, it’s up. I could well imagine that it keeps the noise out as well – perhaps this is one of the pre-requisites for BRG’s planned “state-of-the-art” stadium : it would certainly make hire a lot easier for stuff like concerts, it would mean that we’d never get rained off and it will make Kimble’s touchline clearances much more fun to follow.
The game of baseball is actually quite good to watch in the flesh. Although I’ve never watched a full game before – it can be rather dull on TV and unless the mighty Red Sox are playing I usually don’t take interest – it was certainly hooking. Suffice to say, two days later when the Blue Jays went on the road to Tampa Bay, I went to my hotel bar, saw the game was on and sat there watching it for the full 100 minutes it was on. Bloody hell, I don’t even do that for WFC games.
Anyway, the Blue Jay’s main hero is a pitcher called Carlos Delgado. And he was SHIT. He didn’t even hit the ball once, which is a bit like us getting a striker who’s supposed to be good but doesn’t hit the net when required. Like Carl Cort, I suppose. The use of sound effects and music at US sports games is legendary, and indeed it was the case here. Disturbingly so, actually.
There are loads of stoppages in baseball, primarily for TV but for changing pitchers, teams, innings etc, so we get treated to various noises and sounds. For example, when an opposing player fucks up, you get the disrespectful raspberry noise. Tasteful I know, but what else do you expect from the land of Terrance and Philip (you mean you don’t watch South Park?).
You also gets blasts of music at various times – in that one game alone, we got treated to 10 second blasts of such diverse acts as Dr Dre, Kid Rock, Eric Clapton, Wild Cherry and Queen. And guess what Queen song it was? Yup, you guessed it. In fact, it happened THREE times, and in fact I suffered horrible flashbacks of THAT song, people clapping along in Nuremburg-Rally-ish rhythm. Well, it didn’t exactly happen that way, but suffice to say I realised just how the power of music – and the context it can be used in – can permanently damage one’s psyche.
To calm my nerves after such a trauma, I ordered a beer from one of those vendor people who walk around during the game. Yes, here you don’t even need to get off your seat to get a beer, and guess what – it was sold as ice cold and it WAS ice cold. Amazing. Oh yeah, they also played the theme tune to Hawaii 5-0. Well, it was after the fifth innings, when Baltimore scored a big fat zero. You know – five, zero (as in Hawaii five-zero). Never mind.
One other noticable thing about the Skydome – it has the world’s biggest Triniton screen, which like most other scoreboards gives out absolute rubbish (I for one do not wish to find out that it’s some brat’s 10 year old birthday and that she lives in Alberta). And in truth, it’s not really that high a definition – it’s a bit like a glorified laptop screen. Still you can get to see action replays, and the like.
More useful is the stuff by the side of it. Remember in the old days when you used to get the half-time scores displayed around the pitch perimeter – you know, you get things like “A 0-0 B 2-1 C 1-0”, and the letter referred to the match being played, as listed in your programme? Well, the Skydome does an up-to-date version of it, very useful, and it goes on throughout the whole of the game. They even show highlights of the other matches during breaks on the Triniton. How we would have loved something similar at Soton. Perhaps.
Anyway, the game drew to a close : Toronto won 7-2, the Blue Jays scoring most of their runs in the third innings. The interesting thing was, despite winning and winning good, some people were leaving before the end (including some of those who had got there late). So anyone thinking that this is a WFC phenomenom only is much mistaken. As I made my way into the coolish Toronto night, I noticed that there was very little car jams. Again, the location is vital here – most locals who live in the suburbs can easily get there through public transport. Those of us who were residing in the city could walk back no problem. And those with cars didn’t have to put up with 15,000 other people with the same idea. A lesson to be learnt there, methinks, for our new stadium which must surely come soon.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by what I saw – so impressed was I that I even went back the next morning and booked myself on the tour of the place they do (where I even got to go on the pitch). Believe me, the executive boxes at the Skydome piss on all the others. I saw many things there which WFC could use if we ever get our new stadium – obviously, stuff like beer at your seat are impossible, but things like access and simple comfort and safety are there to be grasped. That visit proved that we can do it, and I bet that BRG knows it as well. Besides, name me somewhere else where the stewards are even remotely as nice as they were there.