TORONTO – Snow is not entirely unfamiliar to Gift Ngoepe, who remembers a storm back home in South Africa when he was about 17 that prompted him to grab two bunches to throw in his buddy’s face before it all melted away a day later. A fun novelty, for sure, but it did little to prepare him for the sharp chill and glistening sheet of snow and ice covering Toronto when the Blue Jays finally made it back from Cleveland on Sunday night.
“This is the most snow I’ve ever seen,” he said.
A bigger shock to the system came Monday, when Ngoepe and his girlfriend were going about their morning in the hotel attached to the Rogers Centre, where the infielder is currently living while he searches for an apartment.
“We heard a loud bang,” he said. “I didn’t think it was anything and she was like, ‘Wow, that was kind of loud.’ A few seconds later the alarm went off in the hotel and I was like, ‘Why is the alarm going off? There’s no fire. It’s snowing outside.’ Then I get to the field and they tell me there’s a hole [in the Rogers Centre’s roof] and that triggered the hotel.”
The bang Ngoeope heard, sometime around 9:30-10 a.m., is the same one Andrew Miller, the Blue Jays’ executive vice-president, business operations, said “sounded like fireworks or some sort of explosion going off,” and led to the cancellation of Monday night’s series opener versus the Kansas City Royals. A single-admission doubleheader is set for Tuesday afternoon.
At the time, Miller was on the field in the shortstop area with Tom Farrell, the club’s director of field operations, and Dave McCormick, the club’s manager, engineering, exploring minor damage the dome’s roof had sustained overnight from ice chunks falling off the adjacent CN Tower.
There were a series of impacts before a piece of ice burst through one of the thin PVC sheets that make up the roof above right field, tearing a hole an engineering team estimated at three feet by five feet.
“We saw it happen,” said Miller. “It was pretty frightening at the time.”
The Blue Jays spent the rest of the day dealing with the aftermath, which included the triggering of alarms around the property, flooding in some office areas and a number of smaller holes in the roof that led to the cancellation. The trouble spots appeared to mostly be above centre and right field, an area from the Blue Jays bullpen to the stands by first base cordoned off.
It’s only the second time since the dome opened in 1989 that a game couldn’t be played – the other coming April 12, 2001, also with the Royals in town, when two roof panels collided, causing a hole and sending pieces of the roof and insulation down to the turf.
After two days of rain forced a pair of postponements in Cleveland over the weekend, not even a return to their domed stadium could shield the Blue Jays from a relentless storm that’s ravaged the region.
“I heard ice falling last night from my place, so I knew it probably wasn’t safe to walk in today next to buildings,” said first baseman Justin Smoak. “To actually see the hole – it’s just crazy. Weird weather this first month, that’s for sure.”
The Blue Jays will stay on turn Tuesday, with Jaime Garcia pitching in the first game and J.A. Happ starting in the second. Marcus Stroman said he plans to throw an extended bullpen in an attempt to stay sharp. Marco Estrada may be the only player to draw benefit from the extra rest, giving his back more time to recover from the spasm he experienced in Baltimore last week.
Monday’s game wasn’t cancelled until 5:35 p.m., when the Blue Jays decided that waiting until Tuesday would give them more information “in terms of weather, in terms of roof conditions,” explained Miller. “We didn’t want to put players at risk, we didn’t want to put fans or employees at risk. We just thought more information and more time would help us.”
Tuesday’s doubleheader will be only the third double dip in Rogers Centre history, the previous two coming in 1989 as the result of rainouts at the old Exhibition Stadium.
Asked what specifically needed to happen overnight for the dome to be game-ready, Miller replied: “We’re still going to continue patching some of the holes. We want to minimize the number of leaks and holes that were created. Obviously, it depends on what the weather’s like tonight.”
The Blue Jays completed an upgrade of the roof’s mechanical system in 2016 and Miller said the team was looking at replacing the white sheets covering it in the next year. Club president and CEO Mark Shapiro has been pushing for a larger-scale renovation of the building and it’s unclear if this latest incident would have any impact on that.
The ice chunk tearing through the roof wasn’t the only frightening incident to befall the clubs. One of the buses carrying the Royals from the airport Sunday night was struck by an ice chunk, damaging the windshield and spraying the driver with glass shards. The bus was pulled off the road safely without incident.
Concern over more ice falling from the CN Tower prompted police to cordon off pedestrian walkways around it in an attempt to prevent injuries.
“It’s not abnormal for ice to fall and cause smaller holes in the roof. There are a number of smaller holes across the roof. That hole in right field was the most significant hole,” said Miller, who added later: “From talking to people who’ve been here a long time, since the building opened in 1989, no one had ever seen anything like this.”
Once the decision to cancel was made by the Blue Jays, pitchers from both teams took the field to get some throwing in, with some players also sneaking in some work. Yangervis Solarte took groundballs, Kendrys Morales did some running, while Curtis Granderson and Ngoepe did some long-toss.
Snow in mid-April is one thing, but a hole in the Rogers Centre’s roof, too?
“This,” said Ngoepe, “is pretty wild.”
Snow neophyte or not, it most certainly is.