Reporting Jay Lloyd
“Following the Phillies” can have different interpretations. It could mean nesting into the lounger and clicking the remote, heading to a ball park in South Philly or jumping in a car, plane, train or bus and making a road trip. My favorite requires a passport and a few days: a visit to Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Phils will be there next week on May 7th and 8th. Why venture to Canada for baseball? Well, here’s why. – Jay Lloyd
To begin with, the home of the Blue Jays is the only major league baseball stadium with a hotel smack on the outfield. Score a room here and you can snag fly balls on your balcony (but more on that later). This domed field, which is open during pleasant weather and closed during foul, embraces first class eateries and addiction-building snack shacks. The crowds are friendly and the stadium location is in the heart of Toronto, within walking distance of major attractions, the restaurant district, waterfront and just steps from the landmark CN Tower.
Like Citizens Bank Park here at home, Aramark caters the food service, but with a distinctly Canadian flare – Alberta beef, Canadian cheddar and that Quebec originated creation, poutine.
SIGHTLINES CARVERY AND BAR
Go ahead, treat yourself. The buffet is in the neighborhood of $50 a head, but the freshly-carved prime rib and the salmon from Canadian waters at a white cloth covered table with an unobstructed view of the field makes the price tag a bargain. Cocktail service at tableside is excellent — you will not lack for attention. For beer drinkers unfamiliar with Canadian brands, try Slemen’s or Alexander Keith’s.
MUDDY YORK MARKET
From familiar ballpark fare to exotic Asian flavors, Muddy York captures the essence of Canada’s largest city. If indulgence is in your blood, try the poutine. It’s a basket of perfectly fried Cavendish potatoes, topped with Canadian cheese curds and then smothered with a velvety smooth combination of chicken and beef gravy.
TD COMFORT CLUBHOUSE
Posh stadium seats directly behind home plate on the second level are constantly under the eyes of servers patrolling the section with trays of drinks and treats from burgers to popcorn. These are probably the best seats in the house, with food and drink service throughout seven innings.
Arriba, located inside the Renaissance Hotel at the ballpark, is a popular spot to park at the bar or grab a window-side table for dinner with friends while keeping an eye on the game below. Mary and I watched the first of two games during our stay from an Arriba table. The play-by-play radio broadcasts, piped into the restaurant keep you up to speed on who is at bat. Prices here are reasonable, and the menu is varied, with familiar takes on Canadian beef and fin food. It also saves the price of a ballpark ticket.
RENAISSANCE TORONTO DOWNTOWN HOTEL
This unique hotel, married to a ballpark but operated separately, offers all the amenities of a major brand – a fitness center, pool, wi-fi, restaurants and bars, parking and a central location. But the big draw is the significant number of rooms and suites with balconies and windows looking out onto the ball field. It’s like having a private box attached to your living room! Rates are about $280 Canadian for an inside room, $360 Canadian for a ball field view. Be aware that on game days, rooms may be sold out, but it still pays to check in the event of cancellations.
A few places to fill your days while waiting for night games.
Next to Rogers Centre, the CN Tower rises over 1,800 feet into the Toronto sky with an eye-filling view that stretches over Lake Ontario and takes in the city and countryside. A revolving restaurant below the needlelike communications tower that tops the structure lets you dine in comfort while taking in the entire panorama.
Just a few blocks from the ball park, the waterfront is the setting for concerts and outdoor theatre as well as lakeside restaurants and boat tours.
THE DISTILLERY DISTRICT
Take a trolley to the Distillery District, where old whiskey factories have been preserved and converted to boutiques, a public square, colorful restaurants and a brew pub.
ST. LAWRENCE MARKET
This is Toronto’s version of the Reading Terminal Market, featuring an array of great Canadian products. Check with U.S. Customs to determine what you can bring home, though.
You will need a passport to enter Canada and return to the U.S.
Ninety cents in American currency will buy you a dollar’s worth of purchasing power in Canada. But if you’re using credit cards, try to get one without “Foreign Exchange Fees,” which eat up your currency advantage.
Check the Blue Jays schedule for any other teams you may want to follow.