TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have found a home for the 2020 MLB season at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, the club announced on Friday.
Now the real work begins.
Following the club’s announcement on Friday, the focus immediately shifted to the major project of renovations and additions to the stadium. These are needed for two reasons, the first of which focuses strictly on baseball and competition.
“We’re trying to take a very good Minor League facility and bring it up as close as possible to a Major League facility within the confines of the physical infrastructure,” club president and CEO Mark Shapiro said. “That means we’re trying to think about the size of spaces, locker rooms, cages, training rooms and resources.”
The second element at play here, and the most important one, is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Clubs are adhering to a strict, detailed set of protocols from MLB, and the Blue Jays will need a stadium that allows for that. Minor League parks are naturally smaller, not just in terms of seating, but also clubhouses and facilities, and these stadiums simply weren’t built with this new reality in mind.
“That creates a demand for an even greater amount of space due to social distancing and the other attributes of the protocols within the document that we’re operating under,” Shapiro said. “It’s a little bit of a dual challenge, but in any circumstance, it’s about how we get this facility as close as possible to a Major League facility.”
Lighting remains the most visible change that the Blue Jays will need to make at Sahlen Field. The existing lighting is good, but it needs to be upgraded and supplemented to bring it up to Major League standards, both for game play and broadcast purposes. That shouldn’t be an issue, though, as the Blue Jays have had the new bulbs and equipment in Buffalo for nearly a week, pending this decision.
For other issues, the Blue Jays will need to “reimagine” the physical space at Sahlen Field. Boston’s Fenway Park could work as a good example, as the clubhouse and facilities in that stadium are very small relative to others in the Majors. To comply with protocols, the Red Sox made use of their concourse areas, which typically house fans and vendors, and have renovated suites to use for player lockers. While Sahlen Field’s clubhouses aren’t the size the Blue Jays need right now, a park with no fans in attendance offers plenty of space to get creative.
The club is also exploring other training options in the immediate area, including the use of the Buffalo Sabres’ training facilities, but it would prefer to have everything housed in one controlled location at Sahlen Field, if possible.
Shapiro said that the Blue Jays have been in daily communication with the players throughout this process. The players’ clear preference was to play in a Major League park, but Shapiro feels the organization is aligned on the Buffalo plan.
“It’s our players' mentality that they’re not going to allow the thought to enter in that it’s a Minor League versus a Major League [stadium],” Shapiro said. “I’ve always thought one of the greatest things I’ve heard expressed along the way is, ‘Wherever you are is your Major Leagues.’”
Toronto’s first scheduled home series, July 29-30 against the Nationals, will now take place in Washington. As the timelines for the changes to Sahlen Field are finalized, the Blue Jays will decide between hosting their new home opener either July 31 against the Phillies or August 11 vs. the Marlins.
The Blue Jays’ alternate training site will now be in Rochester, N.Y., home of the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A affiliate.