Following a long and at times frustrating day traveling to Toronto, we decided to relax in the morning by exploring the city. Relieved that my car was still in the parking lot of arguably the worst hotel in which I’ve stayed, we went in search of breakfast. Across the street was a Tim Horton’s restaurant.
Living in Maine for a time, I was vaguely familiar with the Toronto-based chain, but I didn’t know much about it. To my great surprise, Tim Horton’s offered a wide variety of breakfast options, at a very reasonable price. Buoyed by our luck finding a good breakfast just steps away from the hotel, we were ready to start the day.
We decided to explore downtown Toronto and nearby Lake Ontario during this hazy and humid morning. Our first stop was the Waterfront Trail on the west side of Toronto. This was my first glance at Lake Ontario, and the hazy sky conditions, at times, make it difficult to determine where the sky ended and the lake began. Temperatures rising through into the 80s and higher than expected humidity made it feel more like the US Mid Atlantic than Ontario.
Lake Ontario, like the other Great Lakes I’ve visited, is so large that the opposing shore is not visible, making it seem more like the ocean. Walking along the shore, we encountered a flock of Canadian geese exiting the water and coming ashore just ahead of us. While on land, the geese are typical quiet, and as the geese passed among us as we walked by, it was almost as though they were ghosts crossing a landscape.
Haze and humidity obscured the skyline of Toronto from across the lake, almost leaving the CN Tower in a silhouette. Not surprisingly, the summer weather meant the waterfront was teeming with people, in and out of the still relatively cool water. Wandering along the waterfront, we spent a considerable amount of time enjoying the beautiful vistas the lakefront afforded. With noon approaching, we headed back toward the city in search of lunch.
Since the start time of the game was 407 pm, we parked near Rogers Centre and walked through downtown Toronto to find a place to eat. Wanting something light for lunch, we stopped at what appeared to be a makeshift deli in the basement of an office building. Being from the Northeast US, we are accustomed to fast service for lunch. To our great surprise, a single man handling the lunch rush at the deli reminded us of that type of service, pushing out sandwiches like he was from New York.
Following lunch, we wandered about downtown Toronto until the gates at the Rogers Centre opened. We decided to forgo a visit to the CN Tower, since the line for the elevator was long, and the visibility from the observation deck would likely have been limited in the hazy conditions. During our walk, the sun broke through the clouds, which allowed us to take a few pictures. With the gates opening soon, we cut short our tour of Toronto and headed toward the Rogers Centre for the game.
2. Rogers Centre
Sunshine allowed the roof of Rogers Centre to be open for the afternoon contest. Unlike many domed stadiums, the stadium appeared to be just as big as it was with the roof closed. Arriving just as the gates opened, we had much more time to explore. One of the most noticeable attributes of the stadium was the sheen created by the increasing sunshine reflecting off the field turf. In fact, at times it seemed almost blinding.
As we wandered through the ballpark, we got a true sense of the enormity of the structure. The roof towered over the center field fence, easily making Rogers Centre the largest domed stadium we’d seen, even with the roof fully retracted. Being one of the earliest “new styled” MLB parks, there were amenities that were unique when the stadium opened in 1989. Perhaps the most famous was the Renaissance Hotel Toronto Downtown (now known as the Toronto Marriott City Centre Hotel), located in centerfield, with 70 of the rooms providing a view of the field.
Rogers Centre also featured a Hard Rock Cafe (which closed after the 2009 season) . We did not partake what the Cafe had to offer, as there was too much else to see, but the Hard Rock Cafe was a popular destination for fans, based on the line to enter. There were many places to eat and drink, which was also something new when the Rogers Centre opened. It was obvious that the stadium was constructed to offer baseball fans myriad diversions while at the park, a model that was followed for many of the “newer” parks.
Following a quick tour of the upper deck, we headed back toward the main concession stand to grab a baseball lunch before finding our seats. Located in the lower level down the left field line beyond third base, the view from our seats was not nearly as good as the night before, but we didn’t have rude and obnoxious neighbors with which to deal. By the first pitch, we went from being sunbath to shade, which is always a welcome change in the summer.
For this afternoon’s matchup, the Mets sent ageless Orlando Hernandez (dubbed “El Duque”) to the mound. Hernandez, recently acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, would become the workhorse of the Mets 2006 starting rotation, an innings eater that the staff sorely needed. Hernandez was opposed by the ace of the hometown Blue Jays’ staff, right hander Roy Halladay. Halladay was off to a 9-2 start, earning him an All Star berth, presenting the loaded Mets lineup with a formidable challenge.
The later start in the afternoon (with the first pitched scheduled at 407 pm) would provide problems with shadows for the first few innings, which might suggest a slow start for the offenses. That theory was disproved almost immediately, as the Jays pounced on El Duque for six runs in the second inning, capped by a three home run off the bat of center fielder Vernon Wells
In the wake of the home run, El Duque started running his mouth to the home plate umpire, questioning some of the ball and strike calls. That got him tossed from the game, after Hernandez surrendered six runs on four hits in just one and two-thirds of an inning. While Darren Oliver was taking his warmup pitches in relief of El Duque, Mets manager Willie Randolph continued the argument with the home plate umpire, only to be tossed from the game as well.
Meanwhile, Halladay held the vaunted Mets offense in check, surrendering runs in the fourth and fifth innings, featuring an RBI triple by third baseman David Wright, who would make his first All Star appearance in 2006. While he didn’t have his best command, Halladay showed why he was a premiere pitcher by keeping the Mets off balance. Halladay exited after seven innings, with a workmanlike performance, allowing four runs on 10 hits.
The Mets bullpen cobbled together an impressive performance after the departure of starter Orland Hernandez, allowing just a single run in six and one-third innings of relief. Though the Mets would take on an additional run in the eight inning, it was not enough to overcome the deficit, allowing the Jays to take the second game of the three game set 7-4.
As the 31,000+ fans quietly departed Rogers Centre, I reflected on the stadium. A marvel of engineering when it opened in the late 1980s, its cavernous size seemed to project a general lack of charm or intimacy, something I had noted the previous night. However, I truly understand the magic a stadium can hold for a team’s fans, having seen more than 100 games at the now defunct Shea Stadium. Having referred to that ballpark as a “toilet”, it was OUR toilet, and while I didn’t see the “magic” at Rogers Centre, I can imagine Blue Jays fans feeling quite differently.
As we pulled out of the parking lot and headed back toward NJ, I took what will likely be my last view of Rogers Centre in person. While Toronto does possess some draw for me, the stadium did not, and it is unlikely I will return there any time soon,