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Blue Jays show off stadium renovations

TORONTO – The so-called outfield district got the love last year at Rogers Centre. Now it’s time for a renovated 100-level seating area, new-look dugouts and fresh turf at the home of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Team brass showed off the latest changes to the downtown stadium on Thursday with a media tour that showcased the modernized lower bowl.

“What we really focused on is reimagining this bowl,” said Marnie Starkman, the team’s executive vice-president of business operations. “Changing the seating bowl, making sure that people have a little more width, some more legroom, some cupholders, and just thinking about a modern ballpark.”

The latest renovation is part of the transition from a multi-purpose stadium to a ballpark-first venue, no easy task for an aging domed stadium without natural grass.

The first phase of the renovations was completed for the start of the 2023 season. It featured new bars, social spaces, balconies and new seats in the outfield and 500-level sections.

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There were also significant field-level changes with raised bullpens and a new outfield fence with adjusted dimensions.

The latest renovations forced the Blue Jays to start the 2024 campaign with a 10-game road trip so the finishing touches could be applied. The changes were immediately noticeable upon entry into the 35-year-old facility.

Originally designed for a variety of sports and events, new cushioned seats are positioned so that spectators are looking towards the infield/home plate area.

There are premium seating areas and fans are closer to the field of play. The sections — particularly down the lines approaching the foul screens — seem much more on top of the action.

The slope is particularly evident near the corner areas where the walls have been heightened considerably. The dugouts are farther away from home plate and the backstop has been changed to a brick look from blue padding.

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Foul territory was reduced by about 3,000 square feet, the team said. There’s also new artificial turf in place this season after the previous field was ripped out when the demolition process started last fall.

“It’s an entirely re-envisioned lower bowl from foul pole to foul pole,” said Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro.

As front-office members met with media groups, workers could still be spotted around the venue as preparations continued for Monday’s home opener against the Seattle Mariners.

Some player facilities and premium club areas will be completed by mid-season as planned, the team said. The tab for the multi-year renovation — a privately funded effort — was nearly $400 million.

“Rogers Centre is home to Canada’s baseball team. (Team owner) Rogers has proudly invested in the team and the ballpark, and I’m delighted to see the renovations come to life,” Rogers Communications chairman Edward Rogers said in a release.

Some 32 million pounds of materials were removed and recycled over both phases of the renovation. About 6,500 cubic metres of concrete was poured and 3.3 million pounds of structural steel was installed.

“The scope was pretty incredible,” Starkman said. “I think we probably did an 18-month project in five months. A big part of that was in order for us to build facilities below and change the angles, bringing the fans closer to the field, we really had to demolish the bowl.

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“And what that meant was taking this bowl down to nothing, digging, and then rebuilding it, so that we could create all these angles, so that we could provide all these amenities.”

Kicking the season off with 10 straight road games — against American League powerhouses Tampa Bay, Houston and New York to boot — is a tough early challenge for the team, but the time was much-needed for the finishing touches, Starkman said.

“We couldn’t play baseball today,” she said from the concourse area, joined on the tour by project management director Sanj Perera.

“It looks like we could (from) here but Sanj will confirm (that) everything from city sign-off, to construction that’s happening below us, to amenities for the visiting and home teams that have to be safe for people to move in. We needed every day.”

The Blue Jays were idle on Thursday. They’ll close out their road trip with a three-game series at Yankee Stadium starting Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2024.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.

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