TORONTO – As of this summer, there’s a new addition on the service level at Rogers Centre.
Within the bowels of the stadium, across from the entrance to the visitors’ clubhouse and a few steps away from the barber’s chair that allows players and staff to get haircuts in a well-ventilated environment, there’s now a humidor, too.
Over the course of the last six weeks, the baseball storage chamber has been used to regulate the moisture and temperature levels of game balls in an attempt to create more consistency. After just 25 games in Toronto, it's far too early to draw reliable conclusions about the impact the humidor will have on a ballpark that’s traditionally favoured hitters, but anecdotally some players have noticed a difference.
“You definitely can tell when something’s off. When a ball isn’t travelling the same,” said outfielder Corey Dickerson, who has called six different parks home over the course of nine big-league seasons. “We definitely could tell this year, coming here. The ball isn’t travelling as well. A lot of balls that normally would be gone a year or two ago are not gone. So it’s definitely a factor.”
Historically speaking, there’s been a lot of variation from baseball to baseball, even if they all bear the league’s official logo and the commissioner’s signature. Not only are baseballs handmade and rubbed up with mud one by one, they’ve often been stored in drastically different environments when it comes to temperature and humidity.
That means the baseball you get on April 15 at Target Field might differ in subtle but significant ways from the one you get on Aug. 15 at Camden Yards. Yet over time, MLB has worked to create more uniformity, and nine teams have added humidors.
In 2002, the Colorado Rockies became the first MLB team to use a humidor in an attempt to moderate the exceptionally high levels of offence that occurred at high altitudes. As former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette knows from hitting at Coors Field before the humidor was added, batted ball distance isn’t the only thing that can vary from park to park.
“Everyone thought the ball travelling was the big deal there,” said Bichette, who is now a Blue Jays special assistant. “It was more about the ball breaking. The breaking balls were just not sharp there and change-ups wouldn’t fade there, fastballs wouldn’t sink. That’s why it’s so tough to go on the road.”
Sixteen years later, the Arizona Diamondbacks became the second team to adopt the humidor, followed by the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners in 2020. The Blue Jays were also planning to introduce a humidor in 2020, and went so far as to install one at Rogers Centre at the time, but they didn’t play a single home game in Toronto last year, which delayed the project by a year.
By 2021, the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers added humidors of their own, but the Blue Jays began the year on the road in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, where no humidors were used. It wasn’t until they returned to Toronto in July of this year that they started using one at Rogers Centre.
Over time, the Blue Jays will gain a better understanding of how the humidor impacts the flight and movement of the baseball from pitch to pitch and month to month. For now, the best guess is the park becomes slightly more pitcher friendly.
“We are expecting the biggest impact to be a standardization in the way the balls play at the Rogers Centre,” GM Ross Atkins said. “We anticipate a minor batted ball distance decline overall, but the more significant impact will be the ballpark playing consistently from April to September.”
Beyond Toronto, the league is taking steps to increase the consistency of the baseball, including added oversight on when and how mud gets applied to game baseballs. Plus, MLB continues to study ball storage in case standardizing conditions can create uniformity. At a certain point, MLB could even mandate humidors league-wide (the Blue Jays weren’t told they had to add one).
In the meantime, veteran hitters like Dickerson will attempt to get used to the slight differences at Rogers Centre, a ballpark that has so often favoured hitters but might now be starting to play a little more neutrally at the expense of the occasional home run.
“A lot of guys are like ‘how did that not go out,’” he said. “It’s just one of those things.”