During the first week of March, Minor Leaguer and I made our way to Florida for a few days of sunshine, tropical beverages and fake baseball. Of course, we had no idea that these would be some of the last few baseball games anyone would see in person for a quite some time. At the conclusion of the trip, I griped that the Blue Jays won one game out of the three I saw while I was there, bringing my grand total of wins over the past 10 games I have attended to...one. Presently, there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not immeasurably grateful to have been able to go and experience what was truly four days of sheer bless before self isolation became the new norm as the world was put on pause.
I had this piece mostly written as soon as I got back, but it seemed so trivial and insignificant with everything else going on in the world. However, I think we could all use a little dose of talking about the trivial and insignificant details of baseball, so here we go.
I was very eager to check out the renovations to the Blue Jays’ new spring home park—now named TD Ballpark—as I detailed my primary complaints from previous visits here and here. I’m happy to report that the renovations did not disappoint. In fact, I would argue the multimillion dollar facelift was significantly undersold as this facility has been turned around completely. While there’s still some work left to be completed (and to my understanding is still actively in progress), the improvements are significant and impactful.
Minor Leaguer touched on some of the changes in his post here, but I thought it would be worthwhile to do a more thorough breakdown of what exactly has changed and include some photos and videos (which ML did not have since he had dropped his phone down a waterfall).
Sadly, my DSLR camera I took photos with the past couple years has finally kicked it after almost a decade of use, so I’m going to borrow a couple photos from the image library to accompany my iPhone photos.
Right off the bat, the changes to the ballpark before you even enter are noticeable. Previously, the park had tiny gated entrances and was surrounded by a parking lot, which severely limiting both the amount of visitor friendly concourse and dampened the arrival experience.
Currently, a chunk of the parking lot space has been reallocated into a much larger and open standby area, and the entryway is much more clean and welcoming.
The washed out awnings and bleached seats have been replaced with all things brand new and fresh. And yes, the seats now have cupholders.
Also noticeable in this photo are the upgraded windows for the press box, radio booth and executive suites.
The biggest and most significant change to the ballpark was the expansion of the area surrounding the outfield. Previously, fans and visitors had zero access past the first and third baselines, and it was a huge missed opportunity as this was a prominent feature of every other ballpark in the area. In the below photo prior to the renovations, you can spot practice fields the players had access to, but the lack of proper infrastructure made it impossible for anyone else to go there. This is no longer the case.
With the addition of the upper deck “Orange Trail” circulating just beyond the outfield wall, fans can walk around the entire perimeter of the ballpark, and experience views from every angle.
In left field is a bridge where you can stand under the scoreboard and try to grab a home run ball, or wave hello to your favorite outfielder.
In right field is a Florida “WestJet Flight Deck” complete with a bar and three levels of standing room. Atmosphere courtesy of the new sound system pushing music all through the ballpark. Previously, there was only a speaker or two in the whole stadium.
The new West Jet flight deck in right field pic.twitter.com/2GM4U7UVFE— Kate Stanwick (@OhKStan) May 6, 2020
Another added feature sorely missing from the old park was the ability to stand above the bullpen and watch both the relievers and the starter of the day warm up. At the Rogers Centre, this isn’t even possible due to reserved seats surrounding the area, but at TD Ballpark, fans can wander over and observe from above.
Third Baseline Addition
Previously, the seats along the third baseline abruptly stopped, leaving a large dead area behind them. Fans of the visiting team seeking autographs often gathered there, but otherwise it was a chunk of open field where an ambulance was parked, and the visitors’ bullpen.
Now, a brand new section of seats has been constructed in that place (shifting the field dimensions slightly) and a bar has been added to the upper level.
Eddie’s, a fully enclosed air conditioned bar, will be a welcome addition during the hot Summer months.
New third baseline air conditioned bar and patio pic.twitter.com/2ChEH1Pi8r— Kate Stanwick (@OhKStan) May 6, 2020
On the main level underneath Eddie’s is a branded recreation and patio area where visitors can hang out and play games like corn hole or four in a row. The area is littered with umbrellas, Muskoka chairs and picnic tables, so there’s enough room to host plenty of guests.
Right beside the game area are several concession carts, none of which had a line whatsoever when we were there. This nod to the old ballpark’s ways of roasting hot dogs and hamburgers on barbecues visible to the public was a perfect way to update it while still keeping the old school charm.
Also, the protective netting was extended all the way down the first and third base lines. There is an option to raise it prior to the start of the game to still give fans access to the players as seen here:
Speaking of accessibility, the entrances to the new outfield walkway had ramps up on both sides, so it is accessible to most guests. The second level deck also gave you access view points to clubhouse operations like equipment cleaning and a birds’ eye view of the new autograph alley.
A Work In Progress
As Minor Leaguer pointed out in his summary, there are still some things lacking that will hopefully be addressed at one point. Primarily, there was nothing in the way of tribute to team history or accomplishments outside of what is shown here on the wall of the indoor bar.
I also wish they had done something a little more creative with the bridge way behind left field. The grey concrete look is very run-of-the-mill and ordinary, and they could have done a whole number of different things to give it some character as the Pirates did with their Spring Training Park.
Center field and the new large screen pic.twitter.com/xgvWRooAM5— Kate Stanwick (@OhKStan) May 6, 2020
Also receiving significant improvements were the restroom facilities, concession windows and the gift shop. What previously were run down, dimly lit and often crammed are now in large open spaces with plenty of room to roam and significant lighting.
At this point, it’s unclear when the ballpark will be back open to players let alone guests, but once baseball does resume in Dunedin, the new space will be a joyous and delightful experience for all who visit.