BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Toronto Blue Jays are returning to their home away from home, Buffalo, New York, starting in June. And this time, they’ll have a limited number of fans in attendance.
Forced from Canada by that government’s coronavirus travel restrictions, the Blue Jays posted a note on their Twitter account on Wednesday saying: “Buffalo, we’re BACK! We’ll see you June 1st.” The words were over a picture of Buffalo’s downtown Sahlen Field, the regular home of the Blue Jays’ Triple-A farm team.
“Buffalo’s been good to us. It’s been good to me,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said before a game in Oakland, California. “We had a good time there last year, we made it to the playoffs last year, we made it our home. It was pretty awesome the job the Blue Jays did to make that ballpark closer to a big league ballpark, they did an outstanding job and I heard this year’s even better. Our players have been there before so it’s going to be fun again. We’re going to make it into our home.”
Toronto played its first two homestands at its spring training ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, and will play its third there from May 14-24. But the Blue Jays did not want to remain in Florida for the hotter, more humid portion of the year.
The Blue Jays return to Buffalo with a homestand that includes games against Miami on June 1-2 and Houston from June 4-6. They’ll travel to Buffalo after a five-game trip that ends in Cleveland.
Montoyo appreciates the resiliency and flexibility shown by his young club through all the transitions.
“They deserve a lot of credit because a lot of teams they could be complaining, ‘Why are we doing this, why are we doing that?'” Montoyo said. “We’ll go play wherever we have to go play and we’re going to play to win. That’s what this team does. That’s what they did last year and that’s what they’re doing this year.”
Tickets in Buffalo will initially be available through the Blue Jays’ 10-game homestand concluding on July 4 before the team considers whether it can return to Toronto following the All-Star break, said Mike Buczkowski, president of Rich Baseball Operations, which owns the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. The Blue Jays come out of the break opening a six-game homestand starting with Texas on July 16.
The price of tickets have yet to be determined, and scheduled to go on sale next week.
Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.
The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo and were 17-9 at Sahlen Field. They finished 32-28 to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and were swept in losing twice at eventual AL champion Tampa Bay in the wild-card round.
The Jays are 7-4 in Dunedin this season and 7-10 on the road.
While the entire 2020 regular-season schedule was played without fans, about 4,300 spectators will initially be allowed to attend games in Buffalo, with the possibility of that number increasing. Capacity is listed at 16,600.
Fans will be required to show proof they’ve been vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 to be allowed entry. Canadians could travel to attend games, but would have to face self-quarantine rules upon returning home.
“Last year, I would have said it’s once in a lifetime. Now I guess it’s twice in a lifetime that major league baseball has played here,” Buczkowski said. “The one thing that was missing last year, for those of us who were fortunate to be at a game, were the fans. So this year, that will be different. I think it’s going to be exciting.”
Before last season, Buffalo had not hosted a major league game since serving home to the Buffeds in the Federal League in 1914-15. The Bisons began as a National League team and had a 314-333 record from 1879-85.
The Blue Jays and Bisons have made significant upgrades to Sahlen Field since last season. The bullpens have been moved off the field and behind the outfield walls and the lighting has been improved. New batting cages and a weight room have been built, and clubhouses have been renovated.
The stadium’s dimensions measure 325 feet down the lines and 404 feet to centre. The ballpark is tight in the alleys, similar to Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
Because the Blue Jays are turning to Buffalo, the Bisons have moved home games to Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, New Jersey, which became open when the New York Yankees moved their Double-A team this season to TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
Buczkowski said the upgrades will have a lasting impact on the Bisons beyond this season because Buffalo will surpass new minor-league standards put in place for facilities in order to continue operating a franchise.
“We’re going to have probably the nicest minor-league clubhouses and batting cages in the nation,” he said. “So that’s going to ensure that we are going to have a great ballpark for the next 10 years.”
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, California, contributed to this report.