TORONTO -- Before each baseball season begins, I look through the Cubs schedule to see what might be a fun, or interesting, or (when the team gets better) baseball-meaningful road trip.
This year, the visit to Toronto, Canada stood out as the trip to do. The Cubs don't go to Toronto very often -- this is just the third such trip since interleague play began 17 years ago, and the first in six years, since 2008. That one was baseball-meaningful, as the Cubs were headed for a division title.
2014? Not so much baseball-wise. But I've been to Toronto many times and always have had enjoyable experiences in Canada, so I decided to take this trip even though I knew months ago that the Cubs wouldn't be competitive this year. That turned out to be an understatement, as this series wound up being three blowout losses.
Still, I enjoyed myself. Canadians are polite and friendly almost without fail; they don't hesitate to stop and help out tourists who are trying to find their way through their spotless and pleasant city. It's the largest city in Canada, home to corporate headquarters and national media, so it's kind of like going to New York City except cleaner, friendlier and less expensive.
It's not as easy to go to a baseball game in Toronto as, say, Pittsburgh, which is where the Cubs begin a series tonight and which is about the same driving distance from Chicago.
First, you've got to remember your passport. Unless you pay surcharges, your cellphone isn't likely to work in Canada; that resulted in a lot of time searching out WiFi, which fortunately seems more ubiquitous in Toronto than in Chicago. You've got to convert money to Canadian dollars, which you can do at most banks; you can also take out Canadian money from many ATMs with your U.S. ATM card, but check first with your bank or you could get stuck with big surcharges and fees.
They do take U.S. currency at most retail stores in Toronto, but I like to be a good foreign tourist and use the local money. Credit cards are taken pretty much everywhere, but I learned on arrival and trying to pay at some places in cash that they are phasing out the penny here. Here's some details on how it works; in practice, if you're using a card you pay the exact amount, but in cash you pay either rounded up or down, as the link says, "The Government expects businesses will act in a fair and transparent manner." In fact, at one restaurant they specifically showed the "rounding amount" on the check when it arrived. Businesses can accept pennies, but they're not required to. The current U.S. to Canada dollar exchange rate is around 90 cents, so you mentally knock off about 10 percent from the dollar prices you see in order to know how much they will actually cost you.
So this trip, unlike other baseball trips, you walk around, or take transit around, a city that looks very familiar, but is most assuredly in another country.
Here's one more thing from the Rogers Centre; this is the song they play during the seventh-inning stretch (after which they also sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game"). I missed the first couple of seconds, but you get the idea:
I decided to stick around Toronto for an extra day after the series to do some touristy things before heading back to the USA. Some of these photos are from various restaurants and other places around the city Tuesday and Wednesday; a few are from the game Wednesday night, and the rest from my tour around the city Thursday.
I love Canada and Toronto, despite what its baseball team did to the Cubs this week. I'm sure I'll be back in six years, which is the most likely time for the Cubs to return the way the major-league schedule is currently constituted.