Showcasing baseball's first dependable retractable roof, SkyDome opened in June 1989, replacing Exhibition Stadium as the home of the Toronto Blue Jays. This expensive 50,000-seat stadium is not so much a ballpark as it is a large mixed-use building with a multi-sport athletic field at its center. What the Astrodome was to the mid-1960s, SkyDome was to the late 1980s -- an engineering marvel and an unprecedented hybrid of diverse functions. It contains a 300-room hotel, a large restaurant, what is claimed to be the world's longest bar, and a Hard Rock Cafe (all of which overlook the field) plus a health club and a television production studio.
The 310-foot-high roof is the tallest in sports, and can be opened or closed in 20 minutes. The roof has functioned reliably, unlike the finicky fabric curtain at Montreal's Stade Olympique, which was installed a year before Toronto's and which has remained closed for most of its existence.
But for all its technological prowess (or perhaps even because of it) SkyDome, like the Astrodome, is not a place of charm and strong baseball character. Its roots lie in the round
multipurpose stadia of the 1960s and 70s, and its dimensions are a conventional 328-375-400-375-328. It is a neutral park in terms of scoring and home runs, but for some reason has been conducive to triples, and, to a lesser extent, doubles.
Nevertheless, the park has housed some memorable baseball moments. Jose Canseco hit a gargantuan 480' home run into the uppermost deck for the visiting A’s in Game Three of the 1989 LCS. Joe Carter’s World Series-ending homer against Philadelphia’s Mitch Williams on October 23, 1993 was even more dramatic.
The Dome has five decks, one of which contains luxury boxes that require separate ticket purchases for every event scheduled. The SkyDome features baseball's largest TV screen, 150' wide and 35' high. Strong teams and the park's popularity enabled the Blue Jays to set a major league attendance record in 1989, and then steadily increase their patronage in each of the next four years, exceeding four million three times.
SkyDome's success led to a wave of other operable roofs in baseball -- two in use in Fukuoka, Japan, and Phoenix (Bank One Ballpark), three under construction in Seattle, Milwaukee, and Houston, and several in the discussion stage in other major league cities. Although SkyDome and Fukuoka have artificial turf, the current trend has been to use natural grass. (JFC/JP)