Shapiro: Rogers Centre fan experience should feature variety, history

Rogers Centre. (Frank Gunn/CP)

TORONTO — Generally speaking, Mark Shapiro can envision what Rogers Centre will eventually look like. Once the Toronto Blue Jays revitalize their home stadium, there will be more variety for fans, whether they’re baseball purists, families, watching with friends or there on business.

In a way, though, that initial vision is the simple part. More challenging will be finalizing the details of those changes and bringing them to life. For that to happen the Blue Jays must know how much they can spend and when they can spend it.

Until then, it’s a waiting game, but speaking at Pitch Talks in Toronto Thursday night Shapiro said he’s optimistic that the Blue Jays will be able to bring their vision from the general to the specific sometime this year.

“There’s been absolute alignment and recognition and support [from ownership], it’s only a question of how do we best do it,” said Shapiro, the Blue Jays’ president and CEO. “Does that fit into other things they want to do around the area, not just the stadium, and what’s the best timing to do it. I think it’ll be sooner rather than later. I think it’ll be hopefully by the end of the season we’ll have an announcement of what we’re doing, but I trust and believe that it’s going to happen soon.”

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The renovations will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and will be privately funded by Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns Sportsnet. On the positive side, Rogers Centre has ‘good bones,’ according to Shapiro, and its downtown placement ranks ‘among the greatest locations in all of Major League Baseball.’ Still, the Blue Jays hope to create more variety throughout the building.

“The stadium offers the identical fan experience,” Shapiro said. “Other than the vantage point, the view you’re seeing, whether you’re in the 500s or the 200s or the 100s, it’s the same experience. There’s no differentiation.

“We don’t have a lot of openness of our concourse, openness to the field, openness to the city,” he continued. “It’s dungeon-ous in different places and dark. It was like that even in Progressive Field [in Cleveland] before we renovated there. We have to open things up. We have to connect, we have to create different gathering spaces, we have to create a different set of experiences.”

One way the Blue Jays hope to do that is by honouring the franchise’s history. When SkyDome first opened in 1989, the Blue Jays were barely more than a decade old. Since then they’ve won two World Series titles and had countless other moments worth celebrating.

“We have to honour the tradition and honour the history,” Shapiro said. “It’s 40 years now. Thirty years ago, there wasn’t much history to honour. Now we’ve got a history, so I think we need to include more Jays history within the building. More branding within the building. Not a sterile environment, but one that you walk into and you know where you are, and you know what you’re celebrating by being there, not just that game but the past as well.”

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Here are some other notable comments from Shapiro’s Q&A with fans at Pitch Talks…

POTENTIAL PLAYER DEVELOPMENT ADVANTAGE
While minor-league food has historically been limited to the cheapest and easiest options, the Blue Jays have resolved not to cut corners when it comes to providing prospects with the resources they need to develop, Shapiro said.

“We are spending as much money as anybody in baseball to feed them the best food possible,” he said. “We are supplementing [meal] spreads, we are getting the best nutrition and we’re educating them also about those things. We are helping them figure out better sleep strategies, we’re giving them the best coaches, the best facilities.”

PATIENCE FOR GRICHUK
Randal Grichuk’s off to a slow start at the plate with just two hits in 27 plate appearances, but Shapiro said the Blue Jays keep the big picture in mind whenever they’re evaluating early-season performances.

“We all get affected emotionally by two, three, four games, but we’re making decisions,” he said. “We have to counter that emotion with some of the objective information that we’ve got, which is based on hundreds of at-bats or thousands of at-bats instead of 20 at-bats, so it’s a balance.”

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WHAT BAUTISTA OFFERS
Asked about Jose Bautista, Shapiro said the longtime Blue Jays outfielder and current free agent could still help a big-league team.

“There are so many variables that enter into that, including him — what meets his standards and criteria. I don’t know what’s important to him,” Shapiro said. “I still think if I was with another club and looked at his body of work and looked at what he’s two seasons removed from, I would say yeah, if you needed a right-handed bat, if you needed an outfielder, I’d say he’s a guy you should take a look at. The question’s [what he wants], which could be a variety of things. I don’t know what. It could be geography, it could be money, playing time — any of those things.”

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