Bye-bye, Bo. Arrivederci, Vladdy. Our summer romance with the Toronto Blue Jays comes to an end this week.
It has been a rare treat for baseball fans in Western New York to have big-league games at Sahlen Field. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who played here with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, wowed us with his power hitting and his exuberance for the game. Fans got to see Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernandez and the other blossoming stars of the Jays, along with a talented pitching staff.
Guerrero hit a home run in the Jays’ first game here this season, a 5-1 win over the Miami Marlins on June 1. As of Monday, Guerrero’s .332 batting average and 78 RBIs led the major leagues, and his 31 homers were second. He has hit .333 at Sahlen Field with nine home runs.
After Wednesday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox, the Jays will go on the road while much of the organization will head across the border to prepare for the Jays’ first game back home in Toronto, June 30 at Rogers Centre.
This is the Jays’ second season playing games in Buffalo, but last year it felt more like a rumor. Covid precautions meant no fans were allowed in the ballpark.
Getting fans into the seats made for an electric atmosphere this year, though when the Yankees were here in mid-June, nearly every spectator in Sahlen Field was cheering on the visiting team, a reminder to Blue Jays players that this is a Yankees town.
Fan turnout has been impressive, but it’s a stretch to think that Buffalo could land a team of its own the next time Major League Baseball expands. After our ballpark opened as Pilot Field in 1988, former Mayor Jimmy Griffin and Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich spearheaded an effort to get one of MLB’s expansion franchises. We came close but did not get one of the four teams created in the 1990s. Buffalo’s bid in 1969 also came close, before Montreal was awarded a franchise.
The Blue Jays will have played 24 games here through Wednesday. Covid restrictions meant seating capacity was reduced for most of June and the stadium is only configured for a maximum capacity of 16,600 seats.
Major league clubs require much larger capacity. Stadiums can be restructured but it’s doubtful that our region’s economy can support a major league team for 81 home games per year. The NFL’s Bills play nine home games this year, sure to be sellouts, and the Sabres – with 41 home games in a normal season – are helped by fans from southern Ontario who cross the border to watch hockey here.
Baseball fans here knew this was a temporary arrangement. The Blue Jays did not imprint “Buffalo” on their uniforms, unlike the Triple-A Bisons. The Bisons played “home” games in Trenton, N.J., wearing uniforms of the Trenton Thunder, a gimmick that surely did not fool ticket buyers in central New Jersey.
The silver lining is that the Bisons are working to return to Sahlen Field by Aug. 10. The price of tickets to see the Blue Jays here could be prohibitive, particularly for adults looking to bring the family. Bisons tickets, more than ever, will look like a bargain. We’re also ready for some Friday night bashes, fireworks shows and food mascot races, amenities that Bisons games provide.
And the Bisons’ parent club, the Blue Jays, treated Sahlen Field to some major upgrades that will again make it one of the finest baseball facilities in Triple-A.
A quote attributed to Mark Twain is “history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Twain may never have said it, but it applies to the Blue Jays’ final games here featuring the Red Sox.
The rhyme is this: The original Buffalo Bisons baseball team moved from a minor league circuit to the National League in 1879. The Bisons played eight seasons in the National League.
In the 1890s, businessman Ban Johnson took control of the Western League, a successful minor league whose teams included the Bisons. In 1900, Johnson launched it into the majors, renaming it the American League. Despite assurances to the Bisons that they would be part of the new league, in 1901 Johnson chose Boston over Buffalo. The Boston franchise would become the Red Sox.
After the American League left us empty-handed in 1901, playing 24 games in Buffalo this year was the least they could do.