An inside look at Blue Jays' new Outfield District

April 6th, 2023

TORONTO -- On and off the field, the Blue Jays aim for diversity. Rogers Centre’s new Outfield District is the latest illustration of that.

The club spared no expense in unveiling the finished product of Phase 1 of its renovation process on Thursday, counting on pyrotechnics and a red ribbon that went from one foul pole to the other as CEO Mark Shapiro, along with ownership group members Edward Rogers and Tony Staffieri, made the inauguration official.

After a 10-game road trip to start the season, the anticipation levels weren’t lost on anyone.

“Today is most exciting for thinking about, just five days from now, what our fans will see when they stream through the gates,” said Shapiro from the field ahead of the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “[Fans] will look into the Outfield District and see spaces that they will not know, but were largely created by them.”

Those who attend the Blue Jays’ home opener on Tuesday may not notice big changes from afar. Other than the asymmetrical outfield dimensions and the raised bullpens -- which bring home-team and opponent relievers surprisingly close to fans, the overall structure looks similar from years past.

The club did emphasize throughout the process that this was about the experience, after all.

“All of the research done was to ask our fans what would create a compelling experience, what kind of different ways would they want to experience watching the game,” said Shapiro. “ … We’re trying to create experiences for every type of fan.”

From the 100 to 500 levels, outfield concessions go from campy to sophisticated or kid-friendly to hardcore fan, depending on what each individual is looking for. The goal was to make the spaces as plural as Toronto itself, and the challenge was to do it cohesively, without veering away from the on-field product.

“The ballpark still means something,” said Marnie Starkman, executive VP of business operations. “We’re in the heart of this city, it’s an amazing location and I’m excited that we’re now able to bring a bit of the city here.”

In order to achieve that, the Blue Jays relied heavily on the saying “the way to a fan’s heart is through their stomach.”

Perhaps the most notable upgrade in the ballpark experience is the outfield menu. Options range from old reliables such as hot dogs and poutine to Cuban sandwiches, Jamaican patties and sushi. The club also added signature cocktails, which vary throughout the concessions, depending on each space’s motif.

“Toronto has such an incredible food scene that we wanted to bring that into the ballpark,” said Christine Robertson, director of fan services. “And that’s what we heard from our fans that they wanted us to do. We’re representing the city and the country.”

Of the many odes to the city, The Stop may be the clearest one. Located in the 100 level, the space is designed to look like a subway station, with a colorful mural depicting well-known stops within Toronto’s subway system. Still on the ground floor, The Catch Bar is where fans can grab a quick drink and get close to the opposing team’s bullpen. The Blue Jays also catered to the rowdy crowd here, adding a small section of bleachers right behind the 'pen.

The well-known 200-level West Jet Flight Deck will still be a sought-out landing spot, with some added entertainment in the form of shuffleboard and arcade games. It also serves as a needed transition between the fast-paced environment of the 100 level and the club’s new proposal for the upper deck.

The 500 level’s calling card is the Corona Rooftop Patio, located by the right-field line and marketed as “the best rooftop patio in the city.” Cocktails, lounge furniture and live music play into the space’s sophisticated motif -- a much different vibe than on the ground floor, and one that isn’t necessarily often associated with baseball.

“It’s a change for us, logistically and operationally,” Anuk Karunaratne, executive VP of business operations said of the rooftop patio. “We need to learn what it will be like to operate. We have a good sense, we’ve done our homework, but we’re not going to know [how it will play out] until fans walk in.”

There’s clear symmetry between the retooling the Blue Jays underwent this offseason and the proposed freshness of the outfield renovations. The work began on Oct. 14, virtually as soon as Toronto’s 2022 postseason run ended, and the extended road trip to begin '23 allowed for the conclusion of Phase 1.

The ballpark is ready and the Blue Jays’ season is well on its way. Adding fans and seeing how it all plays out is the next crucial step.