Monday, May 21, 2012

New York Mets at Toronto Blue Jays - May 18-20, 2012

The Victoria Day long weekend is the unofficial start of summer in Canada and Toronto celebrated by hosting three separate sporting events. Most prominent among these was a 3-game interleague series with the Blue Jays hosting the New York Mets at Rogers Centre.

Rogers Centre

Built in 1989 as the first retractable roof stadium in the world, the SkyDome was a beautiful facility back then. I remember going about a month after it opened and being so impressed with its size and modern feel. When the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Championships in 1992-93, the Dome hosted 50,000 rabid fans every night, but as time passed and the retro park boom took over, the SkyDome quickly became a dinosaur in the stadium world. Even a name change to Rogers Centre doesn’t change the fact that the ballpark has not aged particularly well and is now one of the oldest venues in MLB.

The stadium is located right next to the iconic CN Tower along Toronto's lakefront. When the roof is open, it is a great sight both during the afternoon and evening.

Getting to Rogers Centre is best accomplished by public transit as Union Station is connected to the stadium by an indoor SkyWalk. There is reasonably cheap parking nearby as well, although streets get crowded with fans after the game and it can take a while to escape downtown.

Tickets range from $11 for the upper deck (500 level) to $62 for Premium Dugout seats, with club seats in the second level going for $75. These prices are for “regular” games but weekend games and those with high-profile opponents are deemed “premium” and cost a bit more. As well, the Jays add a $2 "convenience fee" at their own box office so you will not pay the listed price. I have never seen a club add such fees before; those are usually the realm of TicketMaster and other brokers. I don't understand why they don't just list the price at $13. Scalpers are plentiful and worth talking to if you want to see what is available. My advice is to try to sit in the first row of the upper deck, it is the best value for money in the ballpark.

It is easy to get into the stadium with 15 gates, although only half of these are used by most fans. Once inside, you will find yourself on the main concourse. There are three seating levels, labelled 100, 200, and 500. The 100 level is much more crowded and has the most food options. However, I never eat inside here as it is generally overpriced ($4.75 for a bottle of water?!) and you can get a very good hot dog from one of many carts outside the stadium before the game. There is a designated driver program that is worth signing up for as you get a large soft drink for free.

The 200 level is mostly used for club seats, but there are seats in the outfield as well (picture from there above) here but again, I would rather sit in the 500 level between the bases. Each row in this level has a bar in front of it which encourages leaning forward, hence the first row is the best.

Above center-field is Windows, a restaurant that gives a good view of the action while you enjoy a meal. You will also notice the Renaissance Hotel here with 70 rooms facing the field, a unique touch. Those are some of the rooms below the Jays' collection of pennants.

Overall, Rogers Centre is a great spot to watch a game when the roof is open, but when it is closed, it becomes a typical dome. Regardless, it will always have a special place in my heart after the Jays 1993 World Series was won here and I love coming home to watch them. I only hope I can return in October one year to see them in the playoffs after a nearly 20-year drought.

Game 1 - Toronto 14, New York 5

I had left Singapore on Wednesday and spent Thursday in Tokyo finishing off some personal affairs before an early Friday flight to Toronto. As such, I was still suffering a bit from jet lag when the game got underway just after 7 p.m., but with the roof open and the Jays bats on fire, the mental fog quickly dissipated. J.P. Arencibia blasted a 3-run shot in the first, Yan Gomes hit his first major league dinger in the 2nd, Arencibia added a solo shot in the 3rd, and Rajai Davis added two homers as Toronto destroyed the Mets 14-5.

It was a great game for Toronto fans, but not for fans of good pitching, with 15 walks being issued on the evening. Perhaps the most interesting stat was that Toronto only grounded out once, with 12 air outs and 11 strikeouts. The Jays are one team you want to avoid giving up too many fly balls to, they are so strong that many of them end up being homers.

With Gomes (above) being the first Brazilian to play in the majors, his home run was obviously the first for a Brazilian. As it was hit in Canada, we must respond by scoring our first World Cup goal in Brazil. I therefore predict that the Canadian men’s soccer team will advance to the 2014 World Cup and score at least one goal in group play. Check back in two years to see how that forecast fares.

Game 2 - Toronto 2, New York 0

The story here was Toronto starter Brandon Morrow (below), who pitched a complete game, 3-hit shutout. Toronto scored two in the fifth off reliever Jeremy Hefner, who was brought in to relieve Miguel Batista who had lasted just two frames before leaving with an injury. The Mets threatened in the ninth as Mike Baxter singled into the corner with one out and a man on first. Baxter tried for second but was gunned down by Jose Bautista, although it turned out the umpire blew the call and Baxter should have been safe. Instead of having the tying run on second, the Mets were down to their last out and David Murphy lined out to short to finish things off.

Gary and the King from Royalty Tours were here and Gary was kind enough to let me use his ticket three rows from the field for which I thank him profusely. With the game taking just 2:12 though, I only spent about 90 minutes there as I had to rejoin everyone for our trip to Buffalo for a AAA game, but I'll post separately about that experience.

Game 3 - New York 6, Toronto 5

It was Brandon Morrow bobblehead day and a huge crowd of 41,867 (an attendance figure more suitable for Canada Day) was on hand on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to see if the Jays could sweep all of New York (they took a small 2-game set from the Yankees earlier in the week).

Henderson Alvarez started for Toronto and was roughed up early as the Mets scored 3 in the first and another in the second for an early 4-0 lead. The Blue Jays responded with a Gomes RBI single in their half of the second and a Bautista homer in the third, but the Mets got those two back in the fifth.
Alvarez was replaced and the Jays' bullpen kept the Mets scoreless the rest of the way, and when the offence added three runs late in the game, it was 6-5 entering the bottom of the ninth.

Ex-Jay Frank Francisco came on to close things out and promptly walked Yunel Escobar and gave up a single to Bautista (above). At this point, I would have accepted some sort of small ball strategy to get both runners into scoring position, but the Jays middle of the order are all power hitters so that was not going to happen. Instead, Edwin Encarnacion, Arencibia, and Eric Thames all struck out swinging and the Mets avoided being swept. Baxter (below) was the star for the visitors with a single, double, and triple to go along with two runs and an RBI. He had two chances for the cycle but grounded out and was walked.

Next Up

The Marlies are in the AHL semi-finals and I'll be going to that game this afternoon, which is the Victoria Day holiday in Canada. I'm then returning to Singapore on Wednesday and will spend two weeks there before returning to North America to do my Florida State League road trip in June. As usual, keep checking back for updates.



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