Major League Baseball is coming back to Buffalo for the second straight season as the Toronto Blue Jays announced Wednesday that they are moving games from their spring training home in Dunedin, Fla., to Sahlen Field.
The first game will be June 1 against the Miami Marlins and, unlike last year, you can be there.
The Blue Jays and Bisons expect to be able to sell around 4,300 tickets for the games and maybe more as the season moves along.
No fans were allowed when the Blue Jays played 26 games here in 2020, the first time there had been big-league games in Buffalo since the Federal League team of 1915. This wait is a tad shorter.
"We were saying earlier today it was 105 years between Major League Baseball games in Buffalo and now we're going to have Major League Baseball in back-to-back seasons," said Mike Buczkowski, president of Rich Baseball Operations. "So it is exciting.
"The one thing that was missing last year for those of us who were fortunate to be at a game, were the fans. It was a major-league game going on and you looked around and there were no fans there. So this year, that will be different. I think that's going to be exciting for the fans."
Vaccinated baseball fans can sit in sections at full capacity starting May 19 in major- and minor-league stadiums across New York State.
The Blue Jays have been enthusiastic about the chance to have fans in Buffalo and will now get the chance.
Said the Blue Jays in a statement Wednesday morning: "The club extends its sincere thanks to Bob and Mindy Rich and the Buffalo Bisons organization; the City of Buffalo, Erie County, and New York State officials; and Buffalo-area fans who have welcomed Blue Jays and Bisons players to Sahlen Field for nearly a decade. The team is excited to return to the site of its strong 2020 campaign, this time with in-person cheers from Buffalo-area fans."
Unlike last year, when the minor-league season had long been canceled and the Jays simply announced they would be playing the rest of their season in Buffalo, there are a lot of moving parts to the current situation. Here's a look at where things stand with some key questions and answers:
What does the schedule look like?
The Jays have only announced they are coming for three homestands that stretch from June 1 to July 4. The rundown looks like this:
• June 1, 2 vs. Miami, both at 7:07 p.m; June 4, 5, 6 vs. Houston, at 7:07, 3:07 and 1:07.
• June 15, 16, 17 vs. the New York Yankees at 7:07.
• June 24, 25, 26, 27 vs. Baltimore at 7:07, 7:07, 3:07 and 1:07; June 29, 30 and July 1 vs. Seattle at 7:07, 7:07 and 1:07; July 2, 3, 4 vs. Tampa Bay at 7:07, 3:07 and 1:07.
The regular-season schedule stretches until Oct. 3 for a total of 59 potential home games in Buffalo. Whether the Blue Jays stay here for the season is dependent upon the reopening of the Canadian border and the approval of Canadian health officials to allow athletes to enter and leave the country.
"I think it'll just be constant communication with the Blue Jays and working closely with them on the situation in Canada," Buczkowski said. "Most teams, it's not just the Blue Jays, are only putting certain tickets on sale for short periods of time just because we don't know what the rules are going to be a month from now or two months from now."
Tickets will be sold in pods of four with a minimum of 6 feet of space.
What's the deal on tickets?
First, there are no tickets available at Sahlen Field, so don't go there looking for any; the box office is shuttered. As per MLB Covid-19 protocols, all tickets must be purchased and accessed through mobile devices via the MLB Ballpark app. Tickets will be sold in pods of two or four.
Tickets for the series against the Marlins, Astros and Yankees go on sale Thursday, May 13, at 10 a.m. at bluejays.com/tickets. Tickets for the homestand beginning June 24 against Baltimore Orioles go on sale Thursday, June 3, at 10 a.m. That also will feature games against the Seattle Mariners and defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays. Subsequent homestand on-sale dates will be announced at a later time.
The Bisons will be offering a presale event for season-ticket holders May 12 at 10 a.m. for the first three series.
What are the prices?
They haven't been announced. Something to be aware of is the Blue Jays have transitioned in recent years to a "dynamic" pricing model, meaning prime opponents and weekend dates cost more. So if you're thinking about the Yankees and experience sticker shock when prices are announced but still want to see an MLB game, you'll likely get in cheaper to see, say, the Orioles or Mariners.
How many tickets are available?
That is up in the air now. The Blue Jays and Bisons, working with city and county officials, announced Wednesday morning that capacity would capped at only 24% of the stadium, or about 4,300 fans. But New York State rules allow for 33% – or around 6,600 fans – for outdoor venues. The catch: You still have to maintain 6-feet distancing between pods and Sahlen Field's smallish footprint prevents that.
Then, two hours after the Bisons and Blue Jays made their plans final, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that vaccinated fans can sit in sections at full capacity starting May 19 in New York's baseball stadiums. In theory, you could fill the stadium's 17,000 seats if every fan was vaccinated.
"That was just announced very recently by the governor and we talked a little bit to the Blue Jays today," Buczkowski said. "It's something they're going to evaluate and figure out what's going to be best. And they'll be making those plans known pretty soon."
What other requirements are there for fans?
The Bisons and Blue Jays also announced that negative Covid-19 tests, either PCR within 72 hours of the game or rapid antigen within six hours, would suffice for fans 3 and older who are not fully vaccinated. Cuomo said testing requirements are being dropped.
Stay tuned on this front.
Symptom screening and temperature checks will be required before entry. Masks will be required at all times for anyone age 2 and over except when eating or drinking at a ticketed seat.
What's being done at the ballpark?
Folks driving by Sahlen Field have noticed that the place is a beehive of construction activity.
"Last year, most of the work was temporary, and this time there are permanent changes that are going to be great for the Blue Jays in the short term," Buczkowski said. "They're going to be great for the city of Buffalo and the Bisons of the future."
Among the highlights: A new outfield is being installed, the bullpens are being relocated off the field to a structure behind the right field fence, new light towers and LED bulbs are in place and a new batting cage building is going up in the service level parking lot.
The multimillion dollar project is being jointly completed by the Bisons and Blue Jays without government assistance, and much of the work was going to be required in future years anyway by the new agreement between the majors and minors to upgrade standards in all minor-league parks.
What about the Bisons?
For now, they will stay in Trenton, N.J., at least through July 4. The team opened its schedule in the New Jersey capital with a 6-1 win Tuesday over Worcester. If the Blue Jays get the go-ahead to return to Toronto at some point, both sides would work to get the Bisons back to Buffalo to finish the season here.