TORONTO -- It’s years down the road, but the day is slowly approaching when the Blue Jays will say goodbye to Rogers Centre and move into a new stadium in Toronto.
SkyDome opened in 1989 and has served the Blue Jays well, first as an engineering marvel with its retractable roof, then as home to the World Series runs of the early '90s and packed playoff crowds of 2015 and 2016. Club president and CEO Mark Shapiro said recently that a new stadium project is not an immediate priority, as it’s grown beyond the scope of what the Blue Jays can put together alone, but discussions of a new ballpark and larger, surrounding development are expected to continue at the ownership level when Canada moves out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence stands as a recognition of “tremendous individual achievement”, with names wrapped around the facing of the 500 level. This includes players George Bell, Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez, Roy Halladay and Dave Stieb. It also recognizes executives Pat Gillick and Paul Beeston, manager Cito Gaston and broadcaster Tom Cheek.
Blue Jays fans do a tremendous job of keeping their club’s history alive, whether it be major moments or fan favorites who played minor roles 30-plus seasons ago. Much of this history can be found within the stadium, too, but for many of the league’s 29 other ballparks, that spills outside in the form of statues, honoring the great players and moments in club history.
We don’t know how far off this project is just yet, but when it’s time, here are some statues for consideration.
Joe Carter touches ‘em all
Joe Carter’s walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series stands as the greatest moment in club history, and that might never change. The moment is remembered with the famous call of Tom Cheek, ‘Touch ‘em all, Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.’ The perfect image from this moment comes when Carter is halfway up the first-base line, as the ball screams over the wall in left field. Carter skips into the air, arms stretched into the sky. Cheek’s words would fit just right inscribed at the base of the statue.
The Bat Flip
José Bautista’s three-run home run in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS was the Joe Carter moment for a new generation of Blue Jays fans. This was the right player in the right moment, and while it didn’t win a World Series, it remains one of this generation’s great Canadian sports moments. It captured those Blue Jays teams so well, too, who won not only with talent, but with style and attitude. The home run shook Rogers Centre with the celebration of 49,742 fans, and will forever be the legacy of one of the more beloved players in club history. Surely, someone can find a way to build a statue with a bat floating in mid air.
The great Roy Halladay
You cannot tell the story of the Blue Jays without the late Roy Halladay, who was the face of the organization for a decade. The only challenge is picking one moment from the Blue Jays career of a pitcher who defined consistency over his 2,000-plus innings with the club. Halladay walking off the field, hat raised to the fans after one of his many complete-game victories seems fitting.
Tony Fernandez’s signature play
Fernandez spent four stints with the Blue Jays stretching from 1983 to 2001, leaving him as one of the club’s all-time greats. The star shortstop hit .297 over his 12 seasons in Toronto, but if there’s one lasting image of his career, it’s that cross-body throw so many of us tried to imitate in the back yard. Fernandez was famous for ranging deep into the hole and throwing back across his body -- almost without looking -- to beat the runner at first.
Alomar’s big moment
Roberto Alomar’s career brought him to the Hall of Fame, but if Blue Jays fans had to pick one moment they’ll remember most, it’s his home run off Dennis Eckersley to tie Game 4 of the 1992 ALCS. With the Blue Jays down 6-4 in the ninth, Alomar launched the two-run shot to right field to send the game to extras, where the Blue Jays would eventually win. This came in a year when Eckersley had won not just the Cy Young Award in the American League, but the MVP. Alomar leaving the box, bat dropped to the ground and hands pointing straight up to the sky, is the perfect snapshot.
Stieb finally does it
Dave Stieb had taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning three times prior to Sept. 2, 1990, and lost all three. He finally sealed the deal against Cleveland, and remains the only pitcher in Blue Jays history to do so. Stieb was one of baseball’s best and most consistent pitchers for a decade, and while his career is still underrated throughout baseball, Blue Jays fans of that generation know what they saw. Stieb was a player worthy of the moment, and the moment is worth remembering.