Going to Dominico Field at Christie Pits is, in a way, like stepping back in time.
When I arrived, I almost didn’t see it. I’ve been to Coates Stadium in Barrie many times, so I’m familiar with the Intercounty Baseball League. I even covered the Barrie Baycats for a year for a local newspaper. I’ve seen the baseball version of the Toronto Maple Leafs before, but prior to just over a week ago, I’d never seen their home park.
When you talk about a ballpark, it could mean many things. In Major League Baseball, when someone refers to a ballpark, they’re generally referring to a stadium. Of course, Dominico Field is no stadium. Neither is Coates Stadium, really. The ballpark in Barrie is set up like a stadium, and it’s technically big enough to be called one, but no one will mistake it for Rogers Centre. It fits around 1,500 people, according to a Wikipedia estimate – but there’s no assigned seating, and plenty of space down each of the outfield lines. Dominico, at a glance, seems like it seats just a few.
Coates may be considered by some to be a stadium, but no one will ever call Dominico Field one. Not even as a passing comment. It’s a diamond, in the middle of a park. There’s a satisfying simplicity to that. I remember the singing of Happy Birthday from a nearby picnic table as I was walking down the pathways that trail their way through Christie Pits. When I stumbled upon the ballpark, I noticed an instantly unique picture. It’s like a concept park from a painting.
Upon your first arrival, if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll immediately wish you had brought a picnic-style towel or blanket.
There’s only one line of seats.
They are, in typical city park fashion, hard metal, and they curve from dugout to dugout.
There’s a nice height to them, and you’ll be close to the action, but there’s one big problem that I suspect will bother many that decide to sit here at the beginning of the game.
Netting is a controversial thing in Major League Baseball. After a number of serious injuries from foul balls and shattered bats, netting has slowly become more prevalent in the sport, with many parks extending the netting from behind home plate to past each dugout. The length it extends to varies depending on which ballpark you visit, but all 30 teams have it extended to reach behind each dugout, at the very least. It’s easy enough to dismiss the netting as a useless safety precaution that’s altering the game negatively, but you try reading the articles about the injuries suffered from sitting in areas where foul balls can rocket off the bat. Read them, and then sit through over fifty at-bats without thinking about it while sitting there. I know that I can’t do it.
The biggest problem with the netting, the detractors say, is that it makes the game harder to see. The eyes focus on the netting rather than the action behind it, and it’s distracting. I can speak to both sides of this argument personally. When I started calling hockey in 2013, there was a similar style of netting extended between the ice and my broadcast booth. It did make it harder to focus.
It made it harder to focus for about five minutes.
The thing with that netting, and I encourage you to test this, is that you stop noticing it after a while.
Now, let’s go back to Dominico Field. Since MLB ballparks don’t all have the netting required to stop injuries from foul balls, it’s unrealistic to expect Intercounty Baseball League parks to have it. Dominico Field’s walls are built, like other ballparks built from city and town parks, from a thick, silver fence. If you’ve been to the style of ballpark before, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a reasonable size through both the left and right field lines, but it extends very high behind the plate. As long as you’re keeping your eye out for pop-ups, you’re probably fine regarding foul balls if you sit in the stands behind the plate.
There’s only one problem. A fence is not netting. A fence is stronger than netting, yes, but it’s also much more, to sum it up in a single word, visible. It’s no fault of the ballclub, but if you have a problem with viewing sports through the netting, you probably won’t love the view from behind the plate.
That’s the decision I made after the first inning of the game I had decided to go to – a match between the hometown Maple Leafs and the Barrie Baycats, the team I had covered all of those years ago. I had enjoyed the inning, and had been given a complimentary program and softcover yearbook. I would have stayed, but my curiosity got the best of me.
See, this next part will have been obvious to anyone who’s been to the home ballpark of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the regulars surely know where all the best spots are. Behind the single line of seating is a gigantic hill that leads to the road. No one’s going to call it a mountain of a hill, but it’s a definite change in elevation.
That’s where the majority of the audience sits during the games. The hill extends all the way from the left field corner to the right field corner. It’s steep, and on this day against the team from Barrie, it was very busy, in a loyal local fanbase sort of way.
You’ll remember that I said I wished I had brought a towel or a blanket to sit on.
After the first inning, I chose a spot higher up on the hill, bringing my program, a newspaper I had picked up earlier in the day, and my yearbook. It was a spot that I could enjoy the game without worrying about foul balls, the fence behind home plate, or the sun.
That’s another thing about Dominico Field. Thanks to the setup that was born from nature and the hills, the sun didn’t impact my enjoyment of the game. The duel started at 7:00 PM, with minor soccer and baseball games taking place in the background. By 8:00, the sun was creeping down to create a wonderful pink sky. By the end of the game, the lights were on in the ballpark. It was a great place to enjoy a ballgame.
That said, it was not a competitive game.
I won’t go into the game in detail, because there are talented beat writers covering both the Baycats and the Maple Leafs right now. The score was not favorable for Toronto. The visiting Baycats took the game 19-2.
Even though it wasn’t close, the ballpark experience was refreshingly simple. There’s a lot of fun involved in bringing a family to the Blue Jays game, but I can imagine this being just as memorable an experience for families, those learning the game, or those who just want to enjoy the sport of baseball.
That’s something special about the IBL. I know that I’ll be back again throughout the summer.