Outside in is a slightly different story. Enough concrete was poured in the arena to lay a sidewalk from Toronto to Montreal, 340 miles away, and it shows. The gray concrete housing of the dome gives the place a drab appearance. Attempts have been made to enliven the outside, most strikingly by the addition of two sets of gigantic sculptures on the north face of SkyDome. Executed by Michael Snow, a Canadian artist, the 14 gargoyles depict fans cheering, booing, pointing, and looking through binoculars.
SkyDome's proximity to the 1,815-foot CN Tower, the world's tallest freestanding structure, also brings to mind a certain sexual imagery that is not entirely accidental. "Obelisk and sphere," says Robbie. "I wanted something soft, organic and mysterious to contrast with the hardness of the tower." Hmmm.
"The eighth and ninth wonders of the world," says Harry Ornest, the owner of the Argonauts. "It is the most amazing and luxurious stadium I have ever been in, and I've been in all of them. However, I would rather have 60,000 seats than 50,000 seats and a health club." Yes, a health club—complete with squash courts. But that's nothing compared with the hotel. The SkyDome Hotel will open this fall, with 350 rooms, 70 of them overlooking the outfield. Some of the rooms with a view of the game will cost more than $1,000 a night. ("Hello, room service? I'd like a hot dog and a beer, and could you please get Henke up and throwing in the bullpen?") The thought has crossed Beeston's mind that a rival team could rent a room in centerfield to steal signs. "But at least it will cost them some money," he says.
SkyDome also has "the world's longest bar" in the centerfield club level; a Hard Rock Cafe in rightfield; a roof-level running track; and Jumbotron by Sony, the world's largest TV screen. Concessions are by McDonald's, which has never done a stadium before. (Eat your heart out, Joan Kroc.)
One thing SkyDome does not have is plenty of parking. In fact, it has very little parking at all. Officials say that will change in the next few years. In the meantime, fans are encouraged to use public transportation. That annoyance is made up for by an abundance of bathrooms. This may be the first stadium in which women will not have to wait in line for three innings.
All this makes Exhibition Stadium, the previous home of the Jays and Argos, seem even more an ex. "Will I miss the old place?" says Beeston. "No." On May 28 the Jays played their last game there, and for the occasion they brought back such former greats as Garth Iorg, Al Woods and Doug Ault. Oh, the stories they told. "My third game in Toronto last year," said the legendary pitcher Frank Wills, "I'm out in the bullpen, and all of a sudden, something hit the bill of my hat. I looked up in the stands. I thought somebody threw something, and I took my hat off and looked. A sea gull had pooped on the bill of my hat."
Sea gulls are definitely a part of Exhibition Stadium lore. Toronto, specifically the Leslie Street Spit, is home to the largest colony of ring-billed gulls in North America (and possibly the world); and on game days, the gulls—beginning in the seventh inning, like clockwork—would swoop in and begin to gobble up leftovers. We all remember, of course, the Dave Winfield incident in 1983. The Yankee outfielder beaned a gull with a throw between innings and was arrested and charged with cruelty to an animal.
How soon before the gulls start flocking to SkyDome? "As soon as one tastes a McDonald's French fry," says Paul Valder, a bird control expert for Professional Pest Consultants. "They love those things." Valder is particularly concerned because he advised the SkyDome people to bring in a falconer to discourage the gulls, pigeons and starlings from making the place their future home by flying in when the roof is opened and staying to roost after the roof is closed. "The plan," Valder says, "was for a falconer to keep five falcons in the building—three on duty and two in the bullpen, so to speak. They even set aside a room with a glass wall so people on tours could see the falcons. The falcons wouldn't hurt the birds, just scare them. They've been very effective out at the airport." But the people in charge of SkyDome operations have adopted a wait-and-see-if-they-leave-droppings attitude, which Valder thinks is a big mistake. "The gulls pose a health hazard, and the pigeons are liable to foul up the roof machinery. I think it'll be a big problem by the end of the summer."
Those other birds, the Blue Jays, are also taking a lot of heat for bringing such a mediocre team (23-31, eight games behind the Orioles in the AL East as of Sunday) into such a magnificent facility. Still, even with their slow start, the Blue Jays will draw close to 2.5 million this year; they expect to average at least 40,000 a game in SkyDome.
Neither the Jays nor the gulls were much in evidence for Saturday night's Olympic-style opening ceremonies. ( Toronto, in fact, is a strong contender for the 1996 Summer Games, and the city's success in opening SkyDome on time will strengthen its bid.) After the roof began to open in the rain, the stadium announcer told the people, some of whom had already popped open umbrellas, that the roof would close. But on orders from Chuck Magwood, the president of the SkyDome corporation, the sky continued to expand, upsetting at least a few spectators who had paid more than $100—and were getting soaked. But the show went on, with a cast of Canadian performers. The best part of the evening came when all the different groups of workers—ironworkers, electricians, carpenters—passed in parade as if they were nations unto themselves. They didn't mind getting wet underneath an open roof that could have been closed. They were proud of what they had done, and rightfully so.