The Toronto Blue Jays are headed back to Buffalo – where at least they'll be much closer to their real home.
Major League Baseball's nomads are currently in their second month of "home" games in the Tampa suburb of Dunedin, Florida. For those keeping track, that's 1,432 miles from Rogers Centre (formally the SkyDome), which is the Blue Jays' rightful home in downtown Toronto.
The Blue Jays played their first two 2021 regular season homestands at its spring training ballpark. They will play a third homestand in Dunedin from May 14 through 24. But the Jays did not want to stay in Florida for much longer. The hotter, more humid time of the year during the summer months was a rightful concern for the team, so moving to a cooler and more comfortable venue was always in the longer-term forecast.
Toronto is returning to their "home away from home," across the Canada-United States border in Buffalo, New York. Opening Day in Buffalo will be June 1st. Spectators will be permitted this year, but only a limited number of fans will be in attendance.
The home venue changes have been mandated as a result of the Canadian government's coronavirus travel restrictions. Sahlen Field, home of the Blue Jays' organization’s Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons, will see major league baseball return again following a short stint last year during the abbreviated regular season when this same venue hosted the team's home games. The facility earned praise for its quick turnaround and reasonably high standards given the short time frame and obvious challenges.
“Buffalo's been good to us. It's been good to me,” Toronto Blue Jays Manager Charlie Montoyo said once the formal announcement was made. “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.”
Indeed, Buffalo officials are now preparing Sahlen Field for regular season home games through a jointly-funded renovation project, including the following upgrades that will be completed before June 1:
- Moving the bullpens off the field to behind the outfield walls
- New batting cages built beyond right field
- Resodding the outfield grass, completing a full field replacement that began with the infield in 2020
- New weight room and renovated clubhouse facilities
- LED light bulb replacements plus two additional temporary lighting poles
The Blue Jays will host fans in a limited capacity at Sahlen Field, which is expected to be 24 percent of seats sold and filled.
The club’s first eight home games versus the Miami Marlins, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees should be in high demand. It will be the hottest ticket in Buffalo since a Bills' home playoff game.
The Blue Jays are currently in the thick of an intense division race in the AL East, where all five teams are playing surprisingly well and at or above the .500 mark. Toronto is 15-14, but could get a boost from returning to upstate New York. The Jays played the majority of its 2020 regular season home games at Sahlen Field, finishing 17-9 at home.
It remains to be seen if the team will play the remainder of the 2021 season in Buffalo, or might conceivably move again – eventually back to Toronto. If health and travel restrictions are lifted anytime soon, that's a very real possibility. This is especially true of the Blue Jays play well and make the post-season again.
October baseball in Toronto – now, that would be quite a journey and a sports tale with a happy ending, especially for the Blue Jays and their loyal fans.