It was twenty years and one week ago today that the Toronto Blue Jays played their first-ever game at the stadium formerly known as SkyDome. They lost 5-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers; Paul Molitor, who’d be the Jays’ World Series MVP four years later, got the first-ever hit at the new ballpark.
SkyDome became the talk of the town, and the Blue Jays, buoyed by one of the best (and most expensive) lineups in baseball, went to the playoffs in four of the stadium’s first five years in existence. It’s difficult to remember that original impact. SkyDome (which became the Rogers Centre in 2005) wasn’t allowed to age gracefully; in fact, in stadium terms, it was antiquated almost as soon as it opened. In 1992, the inauguration of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore altered people’s perceptions of what a modern ballpark could be. Yet SkyDome retains much of its allure, largely because the sense of wonderment it originally inspired has been remarkably well-preserved.
Camden Yards was a reaction to the impersonal, multipurpose parks of the 70s and 80s, which bottomed out with the infamous “cookie-cutter” stadiums in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Its design incorporated elements from baseball’s “classic” stadiums (brick and steel as opposed to concrete, for instance) while the park seamlessly integrated into Baltimore’s urban landscape. The stadium was a bona fide smash. Camden Yards imitators sprung up all across America, each one shamelessly straddling the line between “new” and “old.” Today, more than half of major league ballparks can trace their architectural DNA back to Baltimore. “Modern” ballparks became passé; self-conscious nostalgia was in vogue. SkyDome simply wasn’t “sexy” any more; she didn’t walk so loud, she didn’t talk so proud. In a sense, SkyDome simply came along at the wrong time; on the other hand, while Camden Yards was a masterstroke (it remains one of the best parks in Major League Baseball), it doesn’t mean SkyDome’s any less impressive in its own right, nor does it make it a lesser place to watch a game.
SkyDome simply has no equal among Major League Baseball stadiums; whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of perception, but its uniqueness is not. Next time you’re there, do one of two things: either stare up at the roof or stare up at the CN Tower, and then try not to be impressed. It’ll be difficult, even for the most jaded observers. Sure, the stadium’s symmetrical; sure, its outfield menagerie is garish; sure, the field’s covered with artificial turf instead of real grass. It’s become trendy to see these as deficiencies—but they’re actually what help make SkyDome unique, especially in an era in which “unique” ballparks have become strangely indistinguishable. SkyDome is what it is, and it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. That doesn’t necessarily make the stadium “loveable,” but it does make it easier to appreciate. And while people might not think of it the way they once did, we’re still glad to call it our home away from home. Here’s to the next twenty years!