Field Changes at Rogers Centre Encourage Better Baseball
Blue Jays expect to see more action in return to old-school baseball
Changes to Rogers Centre Encourage Return to Better Baseball
Era of multi-purpose ballparks (thankfully) over
There is good news for Blue Jays fans looking for improved entertainment value at home in 2023. The on-field product at the Jays’ outfield-renovated home, will be one that is forced to become more challenging and unpredictable, strategically, in all aspects of the game, on both sides of the ball and both sides of the field.
That welcome change in expected style of play, encouraged largely by the field adjustments at Rogers Centre will lead to a resurgence of old-school baseball hustle and fundamentals that will please baseball fanatics. We’re not even including the rule changes of bigger bases and no defensive shifts.
A bold Griff’s The Pitch prediction is that, apart from whatever you think of the team’s off-season roster changes, the games at RC will be more fun. The added variety of wall heights, ranging from eight feet in centre field to 14’4” down the left-field line and in right-centre, plus the uneven array of fence angles and random distances from home plate will produce more unusual caroms and more loose balls being chased by guessing-wrong defenders.
This is good spectating news for a smart Blue Jays fanbase that had tired of watching the results of batted balls, no matter their impressive exit velocities, resulting in boringly predictable outcomes produced by symmetrical fences that were 10-feet high from foul pole to foul pole and a mirror-image 328-feet down the lines, 375 to the alleys and 408 to dead-centre.
Make no mistake, symmetry can be good as far as fairness to righthanded and lefty hitters, with no advantage from pole to pole, but it can also become boring, leading to a ho-hum predictability of results for players that see and experience it up close, every day. That will no longer be the case in 2023. Fans had best be paying attention when a batted ball heads to the deepest power alleys or to dead-centre. A healthy Kevin Kiermaier may be worth the price of admission.
“The fact that the centre field wall will be lower will allow for potential home-run robberies which makes it fun for the centre-fielder,” said Jays’ outfield coach Mark Budzinski. “And the higher walls in left and right-centre fields will force outfielders to make quick decisions as to whether they go for a flyball, or pull up and play it off the wall. We will spend time working on these things quite a bit at spring training, as well as early in the season once we return home.”
Budzinski, in addition to being responsible for an increased daily pre-game prep work with the outfielders, is also the team’s first-base coach, who always has had expectations of his players hauling ass, max effort out of the box. This year hustle is even more important. The possibility of misplays that go with the instant decision-making required by opposing outfielders means that it is up to Bud to make sure his players pay attention and Jays hitters take advantage. There should be fewer home run trots on balls that stay in the ballpark and rebound off the wall.
“We will have the potential for more triples with the new wall heights and angles,” said Budzinski, entering his fifth year in the role. “So there will be emphasis placed on getting out of the box hard and not settling for doubles. The ball may take some interesting caroms.”
Other exciting side-benefits? There will be outfielders normally not involved in the play now anticipating the unexpected and racing over to back up their teammates. Team defence will be at a premium.
Face it, the most frustrating, least exciting play in baseball may be the ground-rule double that bounces over the fence with a runner on first base. With fences raised in many parts of the field, fewer balls bouncing out of play creates more first-to-home dashes, more runs, more plays at the plate.
Basically, what we are suggesting here is that in many ways, the game at Rogers Centre, after the renos will lead back to the way baseball was meant to be played, with a cerebral edge in the field and on the bases, wherein old-school hustle will be rewarded and mental mistakes will stand out.
(attached below is diagram of Rogers Centre field … courtesy of Blue Jays)
History of new stadiums, built with unique dimensions
As difficult as it is to believe, there are only six Major League ballparks older than SkyDome/Rogers Centre – three in each league. Those MLB facilities built prior to 1989 include Fenway Park (1912); Wrigley Field (1914); Dodger Stadium (1962); Angels Stadium (1966); Oakland Coliseum (1968) and Kauffman Stadium (1973).
The SkyDome at the time it opened its doors early in the ’89 season, was considered “state of the art” and a modern marvel of stadium engineering, with its retractable roof, huge scoreboard and all-purpose playing surface, featuring artificial turf. Fans, in fact, would go to the park just to see the roof open.
The White Sox followed a couple of years later with a new Comiskey Park, so ugly it made the Jays puff their chests with pride. But then the landscape all changed with Camden Yards in ‘92.
After the O’s moved into their downtown beauty on Baltimore’s refurbished inner harbour, there came nine more new stadiums in the next eight years and 13 more in this 21st Century.
Not surprisingly, none of them have resembled Rogers Centre. The preferred design move was towards exposed brick and natural grass with quirky field dimensions that were seen to be unique, including varying heights of fences and distances from pole to pole, often resulting in signature nooks and crannies. The Jays, thwarted as they have been, in any long-shot hopes of building a completely new facility, instead, after taking notes from every ballpark worth stealing ideas from, have embarked on a much-needed two-year facelift.
Look, no one mourns the demise of those multi-purpose cookie-cutter facilities that were built to host baseball and football, a list that included Riverfront (Cincinnati), Veterans (Philly), Three Rivers (Pittsburgh), the Astrodome (Houston), the Metrodome (Minneapolis), the Kingdome (Seattle) and the second Busch Stadium (St. Louis) with its horrible decision to install artificial turf that got so hot in mid-summer that Expos outfielder Tony Scott once put lettuce in his shoes to keep from blistering.
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