Sunday, August 19, 2007

Game #19: South of the Border, Down Canada Way

No, that wasn’t a typo, though I don’t think it’s quite the way Frank’d sing it. I crossed from the US to Canada between Detroit and Windsor. Seriously – if you don’t believe me, go look it up.

I’d been to a game at SkyDome, now the Rogers Centre, before, but not since long, long ago. In the years since my last visit, about 20 new ballparks have been built, I’ve seen a LOT more baseball at many more parks, and the Blue Jays have dropped from drawing many millions of fans and winning World Series championships to playing third fiddle to the Yankees and Red Sox in their division. And while Skydome was once considered the epitome of modern ballpark design, it’s now looked upon as a concrete behemoth. But, you know, the building itself hasn’t changed, and many of the things that did indeed make it a good place to see a game are still true today.

First off, it really is massive. I know I’ve described several ballparks as being big, but this is just jaw-dropping. From the outside, it feels like a truly massive structure, and once inside, the five decks of seats and boxes rise seemingly forever. As a result, I’m sure a seat back in the top deck really doesn’t provide the sort of intimate view of baseball that we’ve come to know and love. But from our seats on the field level, around 20 rows back and not far past the 3rd base bag, the action was close and exciting.

The highlight of the park is definitely the CN Tower rising high above. With the roof open, as it was tonight, this makes for a fantastic backdrop to the game, and for a great sight as the light changes over the course of the evening.

Also great, of course, was being present for the Canadian National Anthem. Good fun. Though I was quite surprised that people didn’t sing along; a fact that didn’t seem right given the full voice with which fans tend to greet the anthem at hockey games.

The crowd, as well, was really quite decent. With almost 28,000 people in the building, there was still room enough for each person to bring another friend. In the perspective of a smaller yard, though, 28,000 people is a good-size crowd, and it was a crowd that came ready to cheer, to participate, and to enjoy themselves.

I was joined in the game by my dad, who I was thrilled to have fly on into town for the game. While he was only able to get away for the evening, the short flight from Ottawa still left time to come in and out for the game, and for a few beers and some food before (at Gretzky’s restaurant) and afterwards. As he’s been following this trip closely throughout, it was both fitting and enjoyable to have him come along. Mind you, with the Senators-Leafs hockey rivalry the way it is, he wasn’t able to bring himself fully to wearing only blue at a Toronto sporting event, but the Jays are a team for which Canadian red is always a fair substitute.

The game itself was good fun, though the home team fell just short of winning. The more baseball I see, the more I’m reminded of the importance of defense, and its underrated influence on game outcomes. The Jays lost this game, in essence, on a terrible sequence in the 7th when, down 2-1, first baseman Lyle Overbay committed an error, letting a ground ball that should have been an out, or even potentially a double play, roll into right field, and then failed to field the throw back in from the right fielder, a second error graciously applied to right fielder Alex Rios instead of to Overbay. A run scored on that play, and a second on the next at bat, very much the difference in what wound up as a one-run game.

Meanwhile, the Angels first run, and the one that gave them the lead in the game was a monster home run from Gary Matthews that hit the top of the restaurant, famously installed in the SkyDome outfield. As far as it went, it still highlighted just how mammoth the 5th deck home run hit by Jose Canseco a number of years ago must have been.

Elsewhere in Toronto:

While the Niagara side trip consumed almost an entire day, I still had a nice opportunity for a breather in Toronto, and a good chance to get to know the city a bit better. This included…

Second City: I spent one evening attending the Second City comedy club show in Toronto. This club, an offshoot of the famous one in Chicago, boasts an almost-as-famous alumni list, and lived up to their billing with a hilarious revue culminating with a song entitled “Jesus is on your Facebook”, including such lyrics as “Jesus has requested you as a friend” and “Jesus has changed his status from ‘Crucified’ to ‘Risen again’”. Anyone familiar with this popular social networking site would definitely have gotten a kick out of this.

Being stuck in traffic: Having been in NY, Chicago, and Houston on this trip already, and having spent my share of time driving in Southern California, I can safely say that Toronto traffic may well be the worst around. It was astounding to me how horrible the traffic was, arriving in the city, heading out and back from Niagara, leaving in the end, and generally being anywhere on or off the city’s freeways. The complete lack of geographical constraints to keep the city compact seems to have spread out everything outside the city centre, and very much made a mess of things.

Soccer exposure: The sports talk radio channels were announcing English Premiership scores as they happened, a fact that would be unheard of in the US. I wonder, was this always the case, or has the MLS possibly had an impact?

Hockey: I could also definitely tell I was in Canada given that in mid-August, with training camps still several weeks away, the front page of the Toronto Sun, the city’s #2 or #3 newspaper, was a full-page spread announcing that “The Leafs Are Back!”, due simply to a few players renting out some neighborhood ice time for a bit of rust removal.

And last, but absolutely not anywhere close to least, the Hockey Hall of Fame: See the next post for this…

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