The Buffalo Bisons will hear "Play Ball!" 392 miles away from home starting next month.
With heavy construction underway at Sahlen Field in advance of another season of Toronto Blue Jays games in Buffalo, MLB is working on a plan to move the Bisons at least temporarily to Trenton, N.J.
The Herd firmed up details of its temporary relocation Friday morning, confirming what The Buffalo News reported on Thursday: While Sahlen Field undergoes renovations in advance of another summer visit by the parent Toronto Blue Jays, the Bisons will start their Triple-A season in Trenton, N.J. Opening Day will be May 4 at 7 p.m. against the Worcester Red Sox.
The currently unnamed ballpark of the Trenton Thunder will be the host of the Bisons for the forseeable future as work is done on Sahlen Field to prepare for Blue Jays games that could start as soon as June 1. It will not be possible for the Bisons to play games while renovations are taking place in the ballpark, and MLB Covid-19 protocols prevent the Bisons and Blue Jays from sharing the facility.
"With the continued uncertainty around cross-border travel, and the longstanding partnership between the Bisons and Blue Jays, the clubs have undertaken a jointly funded renovation to prepare Sahlen Field for MLB regular season home games under COVID-19 health and safety protocols," the Bisons said in a statement today.
The main upgrades include a new weight room and renovated clubhouses, new batting cages built beyond right field, moving the bullpens off the field in foul territory and relocating them beyond the outfield fence, and more LED light bulb replacements plus two additional temporary lighting poles.
Except for the light poles, all the changes are permanent. The Bisons said the the upgrades will "far exceed" the new mandates of the Major League Baseball Player Development League facility standards, and will make Sahlen Field "one of the premier locations for player training and performance amenities in Minor League Baseball." The ballpark opened as Pilot Field in 1988 and is the oldest park in Triple-A now that the new Polar Park in Worcester has replaced McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., which dated to the 1940s.
The work is being paid for by the Blue Jays and Bisons, without use of public funds from the City of Buffalo, Erie County or New York State.
Candaele played 270 games for the Herd in its first three years as a Cleveland affiliate, all of which ended in American Association playoff berths.
Mike Buczkowski, the president of Rich Baseball Operations, and Bisons General Manager Anthony Sprague are scheduled to discuss the Triple-A club's relocation and the ballpark changes with the media Friday afternoon on a video call.
“After a nearly decade-long partnership with the Toronto Blue Jays, these Sahlen Field upgrades are a natural progression of our successful partnership," Buczkowski said in a statement. "These upgrades are essential for the long-term success of having high-quality baseball in Buffalo for many years to come.
"We thank the Trenton Thunder organization for opening their doors and welcoming the Bisons so this renovation can be completed.”
Bisons season ticket holders and fans with credits from the 2020 season will receive official communication from the team in the next few days outlining flexible options available to them. Fans are also encouraged to visit the ticketing questions page at the club's website for more information.
"While no final determination has been made as to if the Blue Jays will return to Sahlen Field, we continue to develop and adjust our plans to safely welcome you back to Sahlen Field," Sprague said in a letter to fans posted on the site today. "We are also fully prepared to welcome the Bisons back to Buffalo as soon as possible should the Blue Jays not require the use of Sahlen Field or if they come and return to their home in Toronto before the end of the season. ... Rest assured, we want to get back to baseball as soon as possible, whether it’s being able to have fans in the park for Major League Baseball or bringing the Bisons back home."
The Blue Jays played their 2021 home opener Thursday night in Dunedin, Fla., against the Los Angeles Angels. The 7-5, 11-inning defeat was the first MLB game played in TD Ballpark, the franchise's longtime spring training home. Toronto will play its first 22 home dates there through May 24.
The Blue Jays have yet to announce their plans beyond June 1 but they are expected to move to Buffalo at some point in June. They played 26 home games here last season, earning their first playoff berth since 2016.
“We very much enjoyed having the Blue Jays call the great city of Buffalo their home last season and the potential for doing so again, this time with fans, is an extremely exciting possibility," Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said in a statement. "I applaud the Buffalo Bisons and Toronto Blue Jays organizations for privately funding these major improvements to our city’s ballpark so that Sahlen Field can continue to be a great community asset for many years to come."
Staff of the Trenton Thunder, the former Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, will host the Bisons games. Herd players will wear Trenton uniforms for all of the home games in New Jersey and their normal Buffalo gear for road games. The team will continue to be referred to as the "Buffalo Bisons" on all official communications and statistics for the new Triple-A East league.
Trenton lost its Double-A club last fall in Major League Baseball's reorganization of the minor leagues and was slated to host a team in the new MLB Draft League for college prospects. That team will be relocated for 2021.