TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays are doing everything they can to put the “home” in home-field advantage.
Significant renovations to the outfield seating at Rogers Centre have caught the attention of Blue Jays fans, but its major changes to the restricted areas of the ballpark that team president Mark Shapiro believes will give his team a competitive advantage. He said during an hour-long tour of the new facilities on Friday that it’s part of his philosophy to “control the controllable.”
“There’s going to be a lot of things that we can’t control that happen within the sphere of our existence: the nature of our competitors, the CBA, the exchange rate,” said Shapiro, standing in the new weight room of the ballpark. “But if you commit the resources, which ownership has done, you put the time and thought and really being thoughtful rather than just checking boxes and building spaces, it can be a competitive advantage for you both in recruiting players and helping our players stay on the field.”
That includes the largest gym in Major League Baseball, a barber shop, and a family area that has a two-storey playground for the players’ children. Anything to help players stay healthy, become more fit, and help them and their families be more comfortable.
“The most important part is showing our players that we care and that we’re doing everything humanly possible to help them reach their potential and be their best,” said Shapiro.
That means major changes along Rogers Centre’s so-called Ring Road, a 705-metre underground thoroughfare that follows the outer circumference of the stadium, mainly underneath the 100-level concourse.
Facility staff pick up their uniforms, journalists walk (or sometimes run) from the media conference centre to the teams’ clubhouses, merchandise storage, and the players’ facilities are all along the Ring Road.
The Blue Jays’ new weight room and batting cages sit on the outer edge of the road, in the northwest corner of the stadium. This is where some of the biggest changes were made.
“This is, obviously, a dream come true,” said strength and conditioning coach Scott Weberg. “We now have the best facilities in all of baseball between spring training down at (the Player Development Centre in Dunedin, Fla.) and up here.”
At 7,900 square-feet, the new Rogers Centre weight room is the largest in MLB, topping the facilities of the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. The new gym is triple the size of the ballpark’s previous weight room, with 14,000 pounds of weights, 48-yard-long turf, 1,000 square feet of mats for individualized training, 18 pieces of cardio equipment, and a soundproof recovery room.
Mental health is also addressed in the space, with sensory deprivation tanks planned and a meditation room available to players.
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“We’re scheduling times for guys to use it. It’s very popular,” said Weberg of the meditation room. “A lot of our staff does a lot of breathwork as well, so it gets a lot of use.”
Another popular destination is the barbershop, about another hundred metres along the Ring Road. Joshua Diamante, the team’s lead barber, said that it’s another relaxing space for the players.
“We’ve gained this beautiful place, we call it like a sanctuary,” said Diamante. “It’s nice to see the team come together and really be comfortable in the space and feel more like confident within themselves.
“It also captures Toronto’s culture and it just feels more of like a welcoming home.”
Beside the barbershop is the family room, a spacious area for the spouses, relatives, and children of players to gather. It has a large two-storey playroom with a tree house-themed playground dominating the space. Unique touches include a video game den for older kids and lockers with nameplates — just like their dads — above each cubbyhole.
“My boys love it. They think they’re at like a frickin’ Pottery Barn on steroids,” said Toronto manager John Schneider. “They have a blast and they like the ball pit.
“My six-year-old likes the Nintendo setup upstairs. It’s really cool.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.
© 2023 The Canadian Press