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Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Updated: August 15, 2:32 PM ET
SkyDome is just another stadium

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: This is the seventh report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.

TORONTO -- I remember looking out from the pressbox when SkyDome opened in 1989 and wondering, "What will stadiums look like when we consider this place a dump?"

REPORT CARD
SkyDome
Capacity: 50,516
Opened: June 5, 1989
Surface: Artificial

Our Ratings:
Seat comfort: 2.5
Hot dogs: 3
Concessions: 3
Signature food: 1.5
Beer: 4
Bathrooms: 3
Scoreboard: 4
P.A. system: 3.5
Fun stuff: 2.5
Souvenirs: 3.5
Tickets: 3
Exterior: 3
Interior: 3
Access: 3.5
Ushers: 2.5
Trading up: 3.5
Fan knowledge: 3
7th inning stretch: 5
Local scene: 5
Wild card: 5
Total: 67

Fourteen years later, SkyDome isn't a dump, but it no longer feels as if "Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer" should be next to the stadium's name, either.

When SkyDome opened, we had never seen anything like it. A domed stadium with a roof that slid open and shut? A diamond with a Hard Rock Café in right field and a luxury hotel in center field? A ballpark with a multi-storied McDonald's beyond the foul pole? It looked like something Michael Jackson would have designed for Little Leaguers at Neverland.

Former outfielder Randy Bush said that taking the field at SkyDome was like taking the stage at a concert. He was right. When you looked at the visitors dugout, you expected to see Bono in the on-deck circle. When there was a pitching change, you expected Madonna to walk in from the bullpen. When they played "Oh, Canada," you kept waiting for the fans to hold up their cigarette lighters.

And then there was that name. SkyDome. Not the Skydome. Just SkyDome. Like it was a state of being more than a place.

"How are you doing these days?"

"Great. I was dealing with a lot of heavy stuff for awhile, but I'm feeling good about my life right now. I'm at SkyDome."

But now that there are restaurants and brewpubs in every stadium, plus swimming pools and Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds, what made SkyDome special seems a little stale.

Jim Caple
Jim Caple takes a break from the action at SkyDome.
SkyDome is like the rich kid in your neighborhood who was the first to get a TV/ VCR/PlayStation/DVD player. He seemed incredibly cool for awhile, but as soon as everyone else got something newer and better, no one wanted to visit him anymore.

SkyDome used to seem spectacular. Now it just seems like a stadium.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The ratings (all prices are in U.S. dollars) ...

1. Seat comfort: SkyDome has the same problem many multi-purpose stadiums do: The seats don't always face home plate. The seats down the left field line face the hotel, which would have been great if Angelina Jolie was staying there, but I had a sore back by the third inning twisting to see home plate. Points: 2.5 points.

2. Quality of hot dogs: One of the many things I love about visiting Canada is the exchange rate. You hand them U.S. money at a stadium concession stand, and they not only accept it without complaint, they give you more change in Canadian money than you gave them in U.S. Visiting the concession stand is like using the ATM machine. Give them a $20 bill for a $6 item and you receive about $80 Canadian in change. It's like they're paying you to eat the food.

Which is only fair, given the quality of SkyDome's hot dogs. 3

3. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: When SkyDome opened, McDonald's was a concessionaire (I owe about three inches of my waistline to the apple pies in the press box), and what was supposedly the continent's largest McDonald's was located down the right field line. Mickey D's moved out a couple years ago, though, after the attendance crash. You know you have an attendance problem when McDonald's decides it isn't selling enough hamburgers.

SKYDOME BUDGET
Here's what Page 2's Jim Caple spent during his time at SkyDome.

Parking: About $12

Ticket: About $5.50

Hot dog and beer: About $7

Pizza slice: About $3

Awful stuffed pretzel: About $3

Total: $33.

Now that Mayor McCheese and the Hamburgler are gone, the concessions are pretty standard. One piece of advice: If you think the cheese and tomato sauce-stuffed pizza pretzel sounds appetizing, it isn't. But with the exchange rate, the prices aren't bad. 3

4. Signature Concession Item: There really isn't a signature item, though a lot of pizza is for sale. It's not bad, but nothing to get excited about. 1.5

5. Beer: In addition to the usual stadium-quality North American brews, SkyDome sells the Belgium beer, Stella Artois. Like home delivery of Paris' Le Monde newspaper, it is difficult to get in the U.S. Like a nude beach on the Riviera, it is worth seeking out. 4

6. Bathrooms: The only bad part of this ballpark tour is having to approach a woman each game and ask her opinion of the bathrooms. "Excuse me," I say. "This is kind of a weird question, but how are the women's bathrooms here?" They quickly mumble that they're fine, and then rush away from me so fast it's as if I had asked whether they wanted to see my comic book collection.

SkyDome's bathrooms are fine. 3

7. Scoreboard: Three stories high, as long as a blue whale and nearly the size of David Wells, SkyDome's videoboard in center field was a thing of beauty when the stadium opened, providing images as clear and vibrant as a Mountie uniform. It's showing its age now, but the quality is still pretty good and the size remains unbeatable.

It's sort of a waste, though, given that it's used mostly to show Carlos Delgado's swing. With a screen this large, what I really would like to see is the opening scene from "Femme Fatale," where Rebecca Romijn-Stamos makes out with a model in the bathroom at Cannes. (That woman, by the way, was Romijn-Stamos' friend. Romijn-Stamos said that if she were going to do a makeout scene with a woman, she would rather do it with a good friend. But I digress ...)

Jim Caple
Believe it or not, even Jim Caple's presence is overshadowed by the CN Tower.
There is no out-of-town scoreboard and the Jays rotate the scores on the big board. It's like waiting through the sports ticker at home, where you wait and wait and wait and then, when the score finally appears at the bottom of the screen, you're looking somewhere else. 4

8. Quality of public address system: Good sound quality, decent selection of music, and I like how they play Darth Vader's theme when introducing the opposing team's lineup. 3.5

9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: There are some PlayStations, but the real fun is watching the grounds crew sprint from the bullpens to the infield and back between innings (I timed them at one minute, eight seconds). Grabbing a pair of binoculars and scanning the hotel windows for a little action can also be rewarding. 2.5

10. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: At what age should men stop wearing replica jerseys in public? I say you're pushing it at age 30, and anything over 35 is definite Trekkie behavior.

Anyway, the Blue Jays were playing the Red Sox when I was there and a Boston fan walked by me wearing an entire Red Sox uniform -- cap, jersey, pants, stirrup socks and, for all I know, protective cup. He was dressed and ready to lose an October game. I saw him and one thought instantly sprang to mind: Jimmy Kimmel must have given Bill Simmons the week off.

The Jays team store offers a full-range of standard caps, jerseys and trinkets, along with a Pat Borders bobblehead doll for $15 (wow -- can I get two?). 3.5

SOUNDS OF THE PARK
  

Even though it's only worth 3.2 runs when converted to U.S., you should still check out Tom Cheek in his call of Eric Hinske's Grand Slam.

11. Ticket price/availability/location: Here's a very disturbing trend. We've all grown accustomed to the "convenience" fees TicketMaster slaps on each ticket. Now some teams are adding their own fees to tickets even if you buy them at the stadium. The Blue Jays charge a $1.25 "handling fee" per ticket on top of the price. What, do they dust them all for SARS? And I'm told Pittsburgh charges an even higher fee. What's next? A $3 surcharge for actually using the ticket?

Overall, the tickets are a good value, but I'm deducting the Jays a point for this miserable policy. 3

12. Exterior architecture: The CN Tower (the world's largest free-standing structure) is right next door, which makes for a handy landmark when you're lost in traffic and trying to find the stadium. The rest of the structure is large and imposing, but at least there are two terrific sculptures of fans on either side of the stadium. 3

13. Interior Architecture: This was the first stadium with a retractable roof (or at least, the first one with a retractable roof that actually works), and it's amazing how much the atmosphere changes when the roof opens or closes. When it's open, it feels like a baseball stadium. When it's closed, it feels more like a theater. 3

14. Access: The Toronto subway and the city's marvelous old street cars drop you off close to SkyDome, but traffic can be a real bitch if you're driving. There is plenty of parking at and around the stadium (my spot cost $12 two blocks away) but forget about parking on the street -- Toronto parking meters are enforced until 3 a.m. That's right -- 3 a.m. And they start back up again at 6 a.m. But hey, if you have business downtown between 3 and 6 in the morning, you're golden. 3.5

15. Friendliness and helpfulness of ushers: Other than when they were shooing us away from the boxseats, they were pleasant and unobtrusive. 2.5

THE GRADES
Grades for ballpark we've visited so far on our summer tour:

Pac Bell (Giants): 93
Camden Yards (Orioles): 92
Edison Field (Angels): 84
Kauffman Stadium (Royals): 84
Wrigley Field (Cubs): 84
Dodger Stadium (Dodgers): 82.5
Comerica Park (Tigers): 82
Fenway Park (Red Sox): 81.5
Safeco Field (Mariners): 81.5
Jacobs Field (Indians): 81
Turner Field (Braves): 81
Pro Player Stadium (Marlins): 78
U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox): 74
Yankee Stadium (Yankees): 73.5
Bank One Ballpark (D-Backs): 72
SkyDome (Blue Jays): 67
Qualcomm Stadium (Padres): 58
Tropicana Field (Devil Rays): 56
Veterans Stadium (Phillies): 53.5
Olympic Stadium (Expos): 49

Complete rankings by category

16. Trading-up factor: My friend, Scooter, and I bought tickets to the upper-deck in left-center and easily sneaked into much better seats down the right field. But when we tried to move behind home plate, an usher stopped us and demanded to see our tickets. We tried the same move a couple sections over and made it past that usher, only to have the previous usher leave her post and chase us out. She must be a Mountie in her day job. 3.5

17. Knowledge of local fans: When Scooter drove up from Buffalo to meet me at the game, the Canadian customs agent at the border asked him what he planned to do in Canada. Scooter told him he was going to see the Blue Jays. "Oh," the customs agent said, "I love the Jays." Before waving Scooter across the border, he asked him an important question: Should the agent have traded Shawn Green for Corey Patterson in his fantasy baseball league? Scooter began analyzing the deal, then stopped and asked whether he was holding up everyone else trying to cross the border. "Don't worry about them," the agent replied. "They can wait."

And they call baseball America's pastime.

(On the other hand, the fans did the wave in the 10th inning.) 3

18. Take Me out to the Ballgame moment: There are three things that never fail to make me smile, no matter how many times I hear them. One is "Casey at the Bat." Another is the "Who's On First?" routine. And the third is the "Let's Go, Blue Jays" song Toronto sings during the seventh inning stretch, while the Ministry of Fitness folks lead the crowd in stretching exercises (Gary Gaetti used to join in with the stretching). It might be the greatest moment in baseball that doesn't involve giant sausages. 5

19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: Put it this way. Within a four-block walk of SkyDome is Wayne Gretzky's bar, a theater performing "The Lion King" and a Hooters. The Great One, the Lion King, Hooters girls and a major league stadium all within a five-minute walk? Where do I start filling out the residency papers? 5

20. Wild Card: Adding up the points, I find they don't add up nearly high enough to reflect that SkyDome is a pretty decent place to watch a game, so I'm giving it five more, just because it remains unique. Bonus points: 5

TOTAL SCORE FOR SKYDOME: 67 points