Blue Jays thrilled with Sahlen Field upgrades

June 2nd, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Blue Jays are back “home” in Buffalo for the second consecutive year, but this time, it’s about more than just getting through a season.

Last summer was a scramble. The Blue Jays went through Summer Camp in Toronto under strict guidelines, unable to leave the stadium or attached hotel while the club searched for a new home south of the border. The Blue Jays were most notably denied permission to play at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and also explored other MLB options like Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

Eventually, they landed at their Triple-A home of Buffalo’s Sahlen Field in a time crunch.

Upgrades began immediately, both in terms of physical infrastructure and aesthetics, to make it look like a true Blue Jays stadium, but there’s only so much that can be done in such a short time. Much of that work was temporary, including the use of concourses and fan areas not needed in 2020, but now that the Blue Jays have returned with time on their side, 2021’s renovations are more permanent and will exist beyond this season to benefit the Triple-A Bisons, who are currently calling Trenton, N.J., home.

“Everything here, from the clubhouse to the cages and the weight room, it’s incredible,” said catcher Danny Jansen, who played in Buffalo in 2018. “They did an outstanding job. It was refreshing. Even last year it was refreshing for us when they didn’t have much time and did a great job. They had more time this year and it’s just tremendous. It’s awesome.”

This isn’t Plan A, and certainly wasn’t last season, but the Blue Jays players came to embrace Sahlen Field in 2020, where they went 17-9. It can be a launching pad or the wind can eat up fly balls depending on the night, but that’s the way of Minor League Baseball. Like we all saw in Dunedin, when there isn’t a fourth and fifth deck to block out the breeze, the elements come into play a little more often.

Club president and CEO Mark Shapiro says that the organization consulted its players throughout the process, stretching back to last season, in terms of what they needed and valued at the stadium. There’s no turning Sahlen Field into Rogers Centre, but it’s far closer than it was.

“They’re appreciative, and I think they’re excited for two things,” Shapiro explained. “One is the facility, and the second is the chance to finally feel a home crowd, because we have not felt that. We were the visiting team every night in Dunedin to the point that our players were heckled often. It will be nice to have more fans, and it will be nice to have those fans -- at least, hopefully -- cheering for the Blue Jays.”

The indoor facilities are what will be most noticeable to players as they arrive at Sahlen Field for Tuesday’s opener against the Marlins, with a complete renovation of the player areas being one of the largest undertakings. This means a new clubhouse with upgraded weight and cardio rooms, which will benefit the Triple-A Bisons down the road, along with a player lounge, nutrition station, hydrotherapy (hot, cold tubs) and recovery rooms.

Fans won’t see much of that, but there are some more public-facing renovations that they will. The bullpens, for example, have been moved from foul territory and now exist beyond the right-field fence. Shapiro said that, when he spoke with bullpen coach Matt Buschmann on Tuesday, he said the new 'pens rivaled the best in Major League stadiums. The outfield turf, along with the warning track and wall, have been redone, and teams will also have access to new batting cages at the south end of the stadium, upgraded from last year’s temporary cages that lived along the concourse where you’d typically grab a hot dog.

Lighting has been a major challenge, both in Dunedin and Buffalo, to get it up to playing and broadcast standards, so the Blue Jays have also replaced all permanent lighting poles at Sahlen Field with new lights and added more banks of lights to the back poles, along with two temporary lighting poles on-site.

Eventually, when the Blue Jays leave town, whether that’s this year or by the beginning of the 2022 season, the Bisons will be the beneficiary of it all.

“It’s going to be one of the better, if not the best, Triple-A facilities,” Jansen said. “It’s going to be great when it’s all said and done, we’re back in Toronto and this is back to Triple-A.”

Sahlen Field opens with a 35 percent capacity for the opening homestead against the Marlins and Astros before expanding to 45 percent for games beginning June 15, including sections for fully vaccinated fans.