SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, turns 20

SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, turns 20

TORONTO -- Toronto's powder blue uniforms weren't the only things on the field with a distinct '80s flavor as the Blue Jays took on the Royals on Friday.

A handful of players from the 1989 Blue Jays were on hand to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the club's first game at Rogers Centre -- then called SkyDome. Former Jays such as Jesse Barfield, Tom Henke and Kelly Gruber got a chance to catch up on old times and check up on their former digs.

"A lot of your blood, sweat and tears was put into that field," said Mike Flanagan, who pitched for the Jays from 1987-1990. "It's nice to come back. ... Hopefully it's good for the fans, but especially for the players -- to come back and relive those memories."

On June 5, 1989, the Blue Jays played their first game at their new home, moving away from Exhibition Stadium, known for its chilly weather and uncomfortable aluminum seats.

"You go from that stadium over there -- Exhibition -- to over here, and it's like going from B-Street to the penthouse," said Duane Ward, a mainstay in the Jays' bullpen in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "It's a great facility."

Rogers Centre featured the world's first fully retractable roof, which provided some welcome refuge from the cool breezes blowing in from Lake Ontario at the Jays' former home.

"We should've had retractable fences," Flanagan joked. "That would've made my pitching a lot easier."

Since 1989, Rogers Centre has also been the home of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts and hosted countless concerts and other events. The National Football League's Buffalo Bills played their first of five regular-season games at the stadium in December 2008.

At the time it was erected, the building was hailed as a marvel of engineering, designed by architect Rod Robbie.

"We feel like this city deserved something big," said Nelson Liriano, an infielder with the Jays for parts of four seasons. "Every night, 50,000 fans. They're great. That pushed us to be better. The city enjoyed the game, and same with the players."

Although the Jays lost their first game at SkyDome, falling, 5-3, to the Brewers, they went on to make it to the American League Championship Series in 1989. That year marked a run of several successful seasons for the team, culminating in back-to-back World Series titles in '92 and '93.

"It was getting sort of late in my career and it was great to be a part of opening a new ballpark, and the team was on the cusp of becoming a perennial 90-plus-win team and a potential World Series champion in the near future," Flanagan said. "It was great for me, near the end of my career, to be on the ground floor of something that was going to be really great."

Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.