Story and Photos by Michael J. Billoni
Buffalo sports history will occur on Tuesday, May 18 at 10:00 a.m. when a Buffalo Bisons’ season ticket holder will purchase the first Major League Baseball game ticket in the Queen City since 1915. The Toronto Blue Jays delayed the sale of tickets by one week for games they will play in Buffalo’s Sahlen Field “to ensure this plan is safe for all fans, players, staff, and the local community, and consistent with protocols at other Major League venues in the state,” the Jays said in a statement released early Tuesday morning.
For the second straight summer the Blue Jays will call Buffalo their home. In 2020, the Jays played in front of cardboard cutouts at Sahlen Field due to the Canada-United States border closure and the failure of Canadian health officials to allow athletes to enter and leave the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Toronto played its April and May home games this season at its spring training facility’s TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida and last played at the 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.
Due to an announcement by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo last Wednesday that vaccinated fans can sit in sections at full capacity in the state’s baseball stadiums, beginning May 19, the Jays are now increasing the number of seats available from the estimated 4,300 they previously announced they would sell for the first eight home games in June.
“Following New York State’s announcement last week updating protocols for large-scale outdoor event venues, the Toronto Blue Jays and Buffalo Bisons are working with local officials, including the state’s Department of Health, to safely increase capacity by introducing fully vaccinated seating sections at Sahlen Field, in line with the latest guidelines,” the Blue Jays said in the statement.
Tickets will go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 20 (at bluejays.com/tickets). The Jays have yet to announce ticket prices. In recent years, the Blue Jays have transitioned to a “dynamic” pricing model with tickets for games against prime opponents and weekend dates costing more.
Individual game tickets will be sold for a five-game series against the Miami Marlins (June 1,2, 7:07 p.m.) and the Houston Astros (June 4, 7:07 p.m., June 5, 3:07, June 6, 3: 1:07 p.m.) and a highly anticipated series against the New York Yankees (June 15-17, 7:07 p.m.)
Cuomo also said sections in New York State ballparks could also be designated for un-vaccinated people with six-foot social distancing between pods of fans.
“We ask everyone to wear masks, but you can attend the ballgame like you attended a ballgame two years ago,” Cuomo said last week. “It is an added advantage to get vaccinated. This is good for baseball fans—and good for public health.”
As per MLB Covid-19 protocols, all tickets must be purchased and accessed through mobile devices via the MLB Ballpark app. Tickets will be sold in pods of two or four with a four-ticket limit per customer per game. Tickets will not be sold or held at will call at Sahlen Field.
Tickets for an extended homestand from June 24-July 4 will go on sale to the general public on June 3 at 10 a.m., following the same protocol. That homestand will feature games against Baltimore, Seattle and Tampa Bay, the defending American League champion. Subsequent homestand’s on-sale dates will be announced later.
In addition, it was announced, fans planning to attend any game must be vaccinated or show proof of negative Covid-19 tests, either PCR within 72 hours of the game or rapid antigen within six hours, would suffice for fans 3 and older who are not fully vaccinated. Symptom screening and temperature checks will be required before entry. Masks will be required at all times for anyone 2 and over except when eating or drinking at a ticketed seat.
If the Jays were to play the remainder of the regular-season schedule here, the final home game will be October 3, culminating 59 home games in Sahlen Field.
Prior to the Jays playing here last summer, when they were 17-9 and earned a spot in the playoffs, the last major league baseball game in Buffalo was in 1915 to see the Buffalo Blues of the Federal League, according to information found in The Seasons of Buffalo Baseball 1857-2020 book. A year later, the Jays are back and like Blues’ games at Federal League Park at Northland and Lonsdale on Buffalo’s East Side, fans will be in the stands.
Throughout this entire process Jays officials will be closing monitoring the situation with the reopening of the Canadian border. Once they receive the green light to return home, they will leave Buffalo and the Triple A Bisons will return from their temporary “home” in Trenton, New Jersey.
“The Blue Jays returning to Sahlen Field to once again temporarily play their home games is a testament to the great working relationship the Bisons organization has with our Major League parent club. The only thing lacking from a successful MLB summer at Sahlen Field in 2020 was the ability to share that experience with our great fans. I know our Buffalo fans are ready to get back to the ballpark and give the Blue Jays a “home-away-from-home” field advantage that will propel them towards another postseason run,” Rich Baseball Operations President Mike Buczkowski said in a statement last week.
The Toronto Blue Jays released a statement last Wednesday about their return to Buffalo: “We extend our sincere thanks to Bob and Mindy Rich and the Buffalo Bisons organization; the City of Buffalo Erie County, and New York State officials; and Buffalo-area fans who have welcomed the Blue Jays and Bisons players to Sahlen Field for nearly a decade. The team is excited to return to the site of its strong 2020 campaign, this time with in-person cheers from Buffalo-area fans.”
To prepare the $42 million downtown ballpark, which opened in 1988 as Pilot Field, for MLB regular season home games, the Jays and Bison owners, Bob and Mindy Rich, are undertaking a jointly funded extensive renovation project, including the following upgrades that will be completed before the Jays’ “Opening Day” in Buffalo on June 1:
- Moving the bullpens off the field to behind the right-centerfield walls.
- In the parking lot, and directly in front of the ramp that leads into the service level of the ballpark, was the former grounds crew building. That has been demolished and replaced with a large building that will now house indoor batting cages and pitching mounds for the Jays, Bisons and visiting teams.
- Resodding of the entire outfield grass which completes a full field replacement that began with the infield before the Jays arrived in 2020.
- New weight room and renovated clubhouse facilities that will remain for the Bisons future use. It moves the home club house from first base to the third base side of the field.
- LED light bulb replacements plus two additional temporary lighting poles.
In addition, the huge temporary visiting team clubhouse and weight room will be located in the parking lot behind the centerfield fence. The umpire’s temporary clubhouse will also be in that area and the players and umpires will enter and exit the field from a new centerfield gate adjacent to the bullpens.
Suites will also be utilized, however a number of them are required by MLB for players’ families and the visiting and home teams. The remaining suites will be offered to current lease holders first before those on a growing waiting list are called, according to Anthony Sprague, the Bisons general manager during a recent interview.
Although it has not been officially announced, it is unlikely fans will be permitted in Consumer’s Pub, the ballpark restaurant on the second floor. Similar to last year, it will serve as the dining room for all Jays’ players, managers, coaches and officials. The Jays are bringing in their own chef, kitchen staff and servers to operate the facility.
Fans expecting to see Jays or visiting players at Canalside, in local restaurants or on Chippewa Street, will be disappointed because team officials still must follow MLB quarantine guidelines before, after and during games.
Sprague also said, because of health issues, program books will not be sold, and they are still waiting on word about concession vendors in the stands. “We will find a spot for Conehead one way or another,” he said of the club’s veteran beer vendor. Fans who are used to seeing activity on the field or in the stands before and during the game, such as first pitches, anthem singers and mascots, will not see that at any MLB or minor league games in 2021 because of Covid-19 precautions.
The Bisons will operate its concession stands and suites and are currently looking to hire 60-75 associates. Information is available at bisons.com. For inquiries regarding Blue Jays ticketing or updated ballpark policies for attendance, fans should visit BlueJays.com/tickets.
Lead image: The newly sodded outfield that completes a full field re-sod over two years.