Monday April 16th, 2012
Follow me- @ChuckBooth3024
http://mlbreports.com/gwr-tracker/ or at his official website for all updates!
Douglas “Chuck” Booth (Baseball Writer and- @chuckbooth3024 on twitter)– Yes we are calling the park ‘The Skydome!’ For once the shoe is on the other foot. I asked the MLB Reports Founder and ‘Lead Columnist’ Jonathan Hacohen if I could interview him 5 months after he interviewed me. Jonathan and I came into talking by both talking to the MLB FanCave guys at the same time on twitter last June. Jonathan was really interested in My baseball book “The Fastest Thirty Ballgames” and I sent him a copy of it if he agreed to do a review. Jonathan finished the book and gave one of the most incredible reviews for my book that I have ever seen for any baseball book anywhere. Somewhere I had given up all of my creative writing energy in the process while writing this said book. Jonathan followed up with an interview later. During the World Series, he offered up a chance to do a guest article since I knew a lot about the ballparks in Texas and St. Louis. Now I am sure it was all part of his master plan: the one guest article turned into a once a week article, before I even realized it myself, I was writing 2 articles a week and craving more! I messaged Jonathan about a potential run at the record to see all 30 MLB Parks before anyone on this planet. The reason is the man loves baseball. He was just as fired up as I was! From there we have worked together as a team to provide a different kind of article series that has ever been seen by a baseball writer and website. I am happy to finally meet Jonathan today live in person for the Jays game during this record chase. Before we write about that, I had a chance to talk the man about baseball life, the MLB Reports and the Skydome. Here is what we discussed…
DB: “Welcome to the MLB Reports Experts Interview Jonathan. Please tell us about yourself and then give us a bit of background information on your life as a Baseball Columnist? More importantly, how much you have covered the Toronto Blue Jays over the years?”
JH: “Thank you for having me Chuck. It certainly feels different being on this side of the interview! As far as baseball goes, it is a huge part of my life. I have lived the game for as long as I can remember, over 20 years for sure. Growing up and living in Toronto, the Blue Jays have been by default the team that I most closely covered throughout my life. I have seen it all with Canada’s only team. From the move to the Skydome from Exhibition Stadium. To the team going from pretenders, to contenders to World Series champions. Then back to pretenders. The Pat Gillick era. The J.P. Ricciardi era (a dangerous word in these parts). The Alex Anthopoulos regime. The threat of the Giants to move to Toronto for a 2nd team before they got their new park (2nd time the team did that- funnier this time around). The purchase of the team and stadium by Rogers and renaming the Dome to the Rogers Centre. George Bell. Roberto Alomar. Tom Henke. Roy Halladay. There have been some very big baseball names that played ball in this city. The fans are luckier than they realize sometimes. I have had a love/hate relationship with the Jays for most of my life. I was never a “Jays’ fan” per say. I liked the Dome when they built it as a youngster, but I had a bad feeling about it. Too much turf and concrete, not enough love and warmth. I was happy for the city and fans when the team won back-to-back championships, but it wasn’t my team. I was more a fan of particular players than teams. I never understood how fans could love a certain player when they played on one team and then detest them, just because they wore a different uniform. The Giants were my team growing up (thus the reference to the potential move to Toronto). The team was so flabbergasted with Candlestick Park, that they threatened to move the team to Exhibition Stadium if they didn’t get a new stadium. Ironic, since this wasn’t the first time the Giants used Toronto to leverage a move/stadium. But looking at the attendance in Toronto now, a second baseball team in Toronto would have been financial suicide. One team is enough in my books.
My fave players growing up were Will Clark and Matt Williams. The 1989 Giants were my team. Once the players though moved on, I moved on. I still had my fave players, but never a particular association with a particular city or stadium. Until I went to Comerica Park for the first time. The stadium opened its doors in 2000 and I made my first game over there in 2004. I looked it up actually- Sunday June 14, 2004. A beautiful sunny day. Dontrelle Willis pitched a complete game for the Marlins. Juan Pierre had a HR. Brandon Inge was in left. I thought Hee-Seop Choi was the next big thing and that the Cubs were foolish to lose a budding star for an overrated Derrek Lee. Wonderful memories. I loved everything about Comerica. The open air, grass, beautiful concourse, the lively fans- atmosphere. It had it all. Detroit was the closest city to Toronto (4 hours aways) and became my adopted city. I make it to Comerica every year and fell in love with the team, its rich history, the city…everything. Yes, I bleed Tigers orange and blue. But that hasn’t stopped me from respecting where the Jays are heading. They have a bright young GM who has made masterful moves (with the exception of not hanging on to Mike Napoli…BIG mistake!) Great young players and vibe. A move back to the old logo. Finally!!!! The team has the feel that it did back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. People are talking Jays. They are excited. The extra Wild Card is in place. I can see the direction the Jays are going and I am excited. This team will be a serious contender in the next year or two and a return to the World Series is coming. This is not the baseball fan inside of me talking. This is the analyst. For a person that has spent their life covering the Jays and seeing theirs ups and downs, the direction is clear. Good things will happen here.”
DB: “You are the Lead Baseball Columnist and Editor @www.mlbreports.com to one of the fastest growing baseball websites on the planet. Explain how you came up with the Idea of this website? How has the growth changed your life?”
JH: “I have been writing about baseball for most of my life, ever since I loved the game. It started from reading a baseball encyclopedia at about 10. Yes, I read it every night and got through it more times than I can remember. That puppy was in bad shape when I was finished with it! From there I always wrote about baseball. Every chance I had. From short stories to analysis pieces, I just wrote…and wrote…and wrote. When the Internet was still in its infancy, I found message boards very interesting. A way to talk with fans, learn information and debate different topics. But I wanted to do more with my talents. I wanted to spread the word, talk baseball and grow the game as best as I could.
I believe that everyone is born with a certain skill-set. Some people can paint. Some can fix cars. My talent is writing. It’s something that was within me from a very young age. The best way that I have described it is that when I am in the zone and writing, the words literally flow through my fingertips. I can write faster than I can think. I can’t explain why that is or how that is. I was born to write. With that in my mind, I wanted to use my talents in the best way that I could. I investigated many sites and talked with many industry people. I felt discouraged, as I didn’t feel that I could find the right fit for me to write in a productive setting. Unless you hit “the big time” in baseball writing, it is hard to score a top writing gig. Or opportunities could be there, but not ones that fit the person. I wasn’t comfortable just writing straight stats-based articles. Or games highlights. I wanted to write about everything and anything that is baseball. I had a million ideas. World Baseball Classic. Baseball around the globe. MLB Realignment. Expansion. Book Reviews. Baseball technology advancements. I wanted to give the world an outlet to learn about every aspect of the game and to keep the concepts flowing. I also realized that there were many talented young writers out there, that were not getting their shots. I told myself that if I found the right young people that were willing to work hard, learn and produce great articles- I would put the time in to edit and help these young writers along. To give back to the community that was so good to me. With those thoughts in mind- I decided to set out and build the greatest baseball website. To give baseball fans a home that they could be proud of. My baseball masterpiece. Thus MLB reports was born.
The site has grown a great deal from its infancy. From logo designs, website themes and formats, writers, guest bloggers, MLB interviews…I look back and can’t believe how much has been produced in its lifespan. I started off the site with the concepts of what I thought was missing in baseball websites. What baseball fans wanted to see and read. But then, from the time of its creation- MLB reports was going to be a product of the people. I wanted the fans, the readers to decide what went into the site. This was not a site to exist in a vacuum purely for my enjoyment. This was a site that I wanted to fans to love and enjoy, while feeling that they have a part in it. Social media was key- from e-mails to Twitter and Facebook, I demanded from day one that every fan’s voice would be heard and reach the site. The fans have played a huge part in the site and helping us decide in content, the pages that we created and the look/feel of the site. Plus discussions. Oh those baseball discussions. From late night tweeting sessions to Facebook debates. I wanted the fans to feel that they had a voice and that it mattered. Everyone has an opinion. Some are right. Some are wrong. But people deserve a chance to speak their mind and share their thoughts and feelings on the sport they love. MLB reports is the forum and home for the love of baseball. People feel that and have shown that in their support of the website. It makes the experience and all the hard work worthwhile, for all the great writers that is the MLB reports team. It is worth it.
My life has never been the same since I started MLB reports. I have spoken and corresponded with industry people that I never imagined possible. Derrick Hall, President and CEO of the Diamondbacks Matt Williams. Adam Jones. Jon Heyman. Danny Knobler. Chad Cordero. The list goes on…and on. One of the greatest moments of my life was speaking with Matt Williams on the telephone for an interview. When we were finishing up, Matt said something that has stuck with since. He told me that “MLB reports is a fantastic site. You are doing great things for the sport. You are sending positive messages and growing the sport. There is a real shortage of quality sites that do what you do. You are making a difference. Keep doing what you are doing. You are important for baseball.” I was left in awe and shock after hearing those words. It only made me work harder and increased my motivation. If MatT. Williams, a baseball-lifer and contributor to the game on so many levels can say that, I knew that MLB reports was something special. From there, it has been people that I have met at games and the emails that come through on a daily basis. Even having our Twitter site listed in the top-30 must read baseball accounts and named the #8 must follow Twitter site…just adding to the feeling of what is MLB reports. It still hasn’t sunk in. It is like a dream. A wonderful beautiful dream that I never want to wake up from.”
DB: “What is your vision/mission statement for the future of MLB Reports.com?”
JH: “MLB reports is about everything and anything that is baseball. It is the website for every baseball fan. Young or old. Novice or professional. For a person that reads MLB reports, they will learn about baseball news and consider the analysis of the game, which in turn will lead to baseball discussions. As long as it involves baseball, it will be on MLB reports. We encourage growing young writers and turning them into veteran reporters. MLB reports ultimately is about the pure love of baseball. Growing every aspect of the game and encourage positive fandom of the greatest sport in the world. We want to see people reading baseball books, attending games, following prospects, buying baseball equipment, playing the game and living the game. I call it MLB 4 Life. Baseball is Life. That is what it’s all about. Baseball.”
DB: “The Skydome does not rank high amongst baseball chasers when it comes to other ballparks. Having said this, what strengths or weaknesses does the park have for their fans?”
JH: “Wow, the Jays’ folks may not like what I have to say (big laugh). I admit that I haven’t been to every major league park…yet. But from what I have seen, the Skydome is by far the worst facility that I have ever visited to watching a baseball game. It is not horrible or a rundown stadium. Far from it. But when you visit PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Comerica in Detroit, it certainly shows how much other stadiums have evolved from the Dome. The truth is that the Rogers Center is a dinosaur. The last of its kind. Once billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World, now it is just a big piece of concrete with turf. It has a restaurant in the center of the stadium that sits dark and abandoned most games. The food concessions are nothing to write home about…although they have better grade sandwiches on level 100.
So lets start with strengths. It is transit accessible. Taking the subway, it is a very short walk to the stadium. There is plenty of parking close by (if you don’t mind a 5 minute walk) that makes the Dome very easy to attend. (BTW: we still call it the Dome in Toronto, so I have to stay true to what it is). Tickets are very easy to obtain (given the mild-interest fans still show in baseball). We have a lot of diehard fans that are very loyal and attend games. But most people…and I mean majority of people I meet, are proud to say how they used to be big fans back in the day, but lost interest after 1993. Those are the fans the Jays have to get back if they hope to thrive like in the old days. Discount tickets are not so easy to get, as fans don’t dump their unused seats on StubHub/Kijiji like they do in the States. Call it a Toronto thing. I don’t know.
Once inside the Dome, the Jays try hard to put on a good show and make it fan friendly. But until they start selling out the Dome again, the Jays will have a difficult time creating a great baseball atmosphere like the old days. When the Dome is half empty, you really feel it. In Comerica, a half full stadium is still rocking. The Dome is just too big and too much concrete. It feels like a multi-purpose facility. But when it is full, the place is rocking and is a lot of fun.
The Jays try to have theme nights and all sorts of events. The team got smarter and tried to reach out to the fans and win them back. It is a work in progress, but it’s getting better. More autograph signings before games for example. Going to the old school logo has really helped. I have a feeling seeing the old Jays uniforms on the field will bring back the excitement and feelings for the fans of when this team was popular and “good”.
As far as weaknesses go, I think that I have been pretty blunt on the assessment. Poor vibe and atmosphere for the most part. Not all seating is great, especially in the nose bleed 500s. Food is so-so at best. For those fans lucky to live in Toronto, it is great to have a major league stadium in town. A talented team with the potential to be contenders. But going to the Dome, you have to love baseball…because you go there for the games only. It is not a destination stadium or one that is just fun being there. It is a stadium that everyone should see once in their lives, but will make people run to watch games at newer parks. The best way that I can describe the Dome is a dinosaur.”
DB: “Last year, your son and you attended a sleep over at the Skydome after a baseball game.It looked like you guys had the time of your life. Do the Blue Jays do a lot to bring kids to the park?”
JH: “This is one part when the Jays really shine. They have ACE, one of the coolest mascots in the game. While fans used to love BJ Birdy back in the day, Ace is really kid friendly and gets the little ones excited. On Saturday afternoon games, the Jays even feature another mascot- Junior Ace. My son is obsessed with Junior Ace, who is Ace’s son. He is the size of most little kids (3 feet? 4 feet?) Ace and his son (when around) go around the stadium all game long taking pictures and being lively. After the game on Saturday games also, kids can lineup from two exits and get to run the bases on the field. Kids can’t get enough of that! Plus the autograph signings and promo days like bobblehead days makes the Dome a very kid-friendly place. One of the problems though is the cost. Games are very expensive, as are the concessions and merchandise. $30 for a kid’s tee? $8-12 slushees? Those are approximate prices, but they are very expensive. If I were the Jays, I would sell the merchandise and concessions at discounted rates and have more kid-friendly prices for more games. That would be the best way for parents to get their kids to the Dome without breaking the bank and getting the kids hooked onto the game. The Jays are doing a lot to attract new fans, but still have more ways to go.”
DB: “What is your favorite method of transportation to and from the Skydome?”
JH: “A big dilemma for me. I like driving to and from the game, since I get to sit in the comfort of my own car. But I hate the traffic of getting out of the downtown and getting home. For comfort I like driving, but for simplicity and ease I like the transit (subway). I am getting more and more into taking the subway these days.”
DB: “What advice would you give for somebody experiencing the Skydome for the very first time?”
JH: “Simple. Go in with no expectations or expecting the worst stadium in the world. If you think nothing of the place, you will be pleasantly surprised! If you go in expecting a lot (especially if you visited other stadiums in the U.S.), you will likely be disappointed. Talk to a ticket agent when buying seats, not ordering seats on-line. The Jays’ ticket department will listen to what you want from your seats and help you pick the seats that will best work for you. Bring your own food and drinks. The Jays are very easy on this, as long as the drinks are in a bottle and below 700mL. The food is sub par and I would recommend bringing a sub from Subway or anything else than eating there. Way overpriced for what it is. Sit in the bullpens. That is where the real fans sit and you will get the best baseball experience. Come early before the game starts to walk around, watch BP and hopefully get an autograph or two. Also, go to two consecutive games your first time at the Dome. At the first game you will learn the facility and you will feel like you are home for the second game.”
DB: “What is the food like at the Skydome? What is your favorite ballpark food there?”
JH: “To say that the Dome has the worst ballpark food that I have seen is an understatement. I love to eat and I love food. But there are slim pickings. The hot dogs are so-so. There are wings, pizza, chicken fingers and fries, popcorn etc. I have eaten at the Dome for many years, but was never really impressed. Once McDonald’s pulled out of the place back in the 90’s, the food quality went downhill. In the last couple of years though, there have been some improvements. Mainly- the marketplace food area on level 100. There is a noodle station if you like asian food. Decent nachos with chicken. But I have a sandwich there that I am completely hooked on. It is a brisket sandwich on a kaiser, the brisket soaked in rootbeer bbq sauce, with fried onions and red cabbage. They are $10 each and well worth it. I usually buy 2 to start a game. I have spent hundreds on these brisket sandwiches and keep coming back for more. But unless you are eating in the marketplace….watch out!!!!”
DB: “With a new Wild Card team in both leagues, do you think this bodes well for the Toronto Blue Jays in the short and long term?”
JH: “The Extra Wild Card will save the Jays in my opinion. Let’s take 2012 for example. Perfect scenario. There will be 5 playoff spots in the AL. For those 5 spots, I see the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Jays, Tigers, Rangers and Angels battling it out. 7 teams for 5 spots. You have to like those odds. The Jays play in the hardest division in baseball, with 3 top teams to contend against. It is what it is. If we assume though that the Tigers, Angels/Rangers and Red Sox/Yankees/Rays are all locks to get division crowns- then the Jays are really just competing for a wild card spot. This would be the case no matter what division they played in. I find the Rangers/Angels much bigger threats than the 3-headed monster in the east (Rays/Yankees/Red Sox). But the east has 3 teams to contend with, while the west has 2 and the central only 1. For now. In a couple of years, the central will be a tough place to play when the Royals will join the Tigers in contention. So it’s all in cycles when it comes to divisions and playoff races. But the extra wild is the likely difference between the Jays making the playoffs and not, both in the short and long-term. That is the reality. There is a chance that the Jays could become division contenders, but I just don’t see that happening. But once you get in through the wild card, anything can happen. Playoff contention will lead to higher attendances and more interest in the Jays, which means deadline acquisitions and possible October baseball. From the second the wild card was announced, the Jays were better off.”
DB: “What are your early thoughts on the 2012 version of the Toronto Blue Jays?”
JH: “I like what I am seeing. I really really do. I have seen the vision for a couple of years now and it is coming together. This team is so close that I can taste it. Colby Rasmus and Eric Thames joining Jose Bautista in the outfield. Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie for full seasons. Santos and Cordero in the bullpen. The Jays need 3 things to get to the playoffs: A top starting pitcher, a good starting pitcher and a big bat behind Bautista. That’s it. Everything else is in place. The team vastly improved its bullpen compared to 2011, which was a big source of stress. Adam Lind is not the answer behind Bautista and the team does not have enough depth behind Romero. Three more tweaks and this is a playoff team. I am excited about the team, plus all the prospects on their way. d’Arnaud. Gose. McGuire. In about 2-3 years, the Jays, Nationals and Royals will be powerhouses. The 2012 Jays will be good, but are not making the playoffs. Unless the team gets the last pieces that it needs. But the promise of good things is coming this year. I am especially excited about Thames and Rasmus. Very high on these kids. Cordero and Santos will be fun to watch at the end of games as well.”
DB: “What is your favorite all time game that you have been in attendance for at The Skydome?”
JH: “WAY too many to list. I was at John Olerud’s home debut against the Twins. I was at the playoff game in 1991 when the Twins beat the Jays to advance to the World Series. I remember watching a game in the 90’s when Dave Parker was with the Brewers (one of my fave players of all-time) and the Cobra swatted a pair of home runs to beat the Jays. Got his autograph after which made it that much sweeter. Going to watch the Astros last year with my son and then having the sleepover was great. But my fave game (although most painful), took place in September 1989. The Jays were playing the Royals. George Brett had a single, double and triple in the game and as a home run away from the cycle. I was sitting over the bullpen, first row seats…right field I believe. I knew that Brett just needed the home run to get the cycle. The ball got hit to me. I froze. It went into my hands and dropped behind me. Someone stepped on my hand to get the ball. They traded the ball with an usher for 2 clean baseballs. I was excited to have seen the cycle game…but devastated that I missed catching the ball. A George Brett bat would have been mine if things had gone differently.
My dream though has been to see a no-hitter live. Last May, Justin Verlander threw a no-no against the Jays. I was all set to take my son to watch that game. It was a late starter, 4pm I believe. I gave him the choice of watching baseball or going to drive go-karts. Being 5 at the time, he chose the go-karts. As we left the go-karts to go home, I heard the last 2 innings on the radio. I was so happy to have spent such a great day with my son, but wished we could have enjoyed it watching Verlander’s big day. It should have been one of the best games of my life, but will forever live in the “what if” category. As you can tell I love stories and talking baseball memories. These were some of the most private and fondest ones that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
DB: “Thank you very much Jonathan. I really appreciate your faith in me as a writer. I also applaud you giving up so much of your time to help shape the writing careers of all your writers. It is a pleasure to work with you!”
JH: “Thank you for having me on Chuck and for this opportunity. I appreciate your hard work as one of our Baseball Writers at The Reports and for everything you have done for the game. I really enjoyed your book “The Fastest 30 Ballgames” and for following your chase to break your own Guinness World Record. You are a true star in this game and baseball is lucky to have you. To the great baseball fans and readers of MLB reports, I personally want to thank each and every one of my readers for their support. My site is only possible because of you. I hope that you enjoy it and that mlbreports.com increases your love of baseball to the highest levels. Thank you for being baseball fans. Keep watching, playing and talking baseball. It is MLB 4 Life!!!”
*** A big thank you goes out to Jonathan Hacohen for participating in the expert article Series.***