Rain threatened to wash away our baseball weekend in weather New York and northwest Pennsylvania, as the forecast was very wet and cool. My brother and I traveled from my home near Harrisburg to Buffalo on Friday, July 26th, with the intent of seeing a game on Saturday at Sahlen Field (to see the “Buffalo” Blue Jays host the Texas Rangers), then taking in a game at UPMC Field in Erie on Sunday. Since the drive to Buffalo took only five hours, we found ourselves with some time Friday afternoon to do some sightseeing. Since Niagara Falls was only 30 minutes away, we went there for our first glimpse of the natural beauty from the American side.
An overcast sky yielded occasional light showers and drizzle, which resulted in us cutting our visit to the Falls short. Before leaving, my brother suggested that we visit Sahlen Field that night, since the forecast for Saturday afternoon was bad, almost assuring a rain out. Not wanting to miss our opportunity to see an MLB game in Buffalo, we quickly purchased tickets for the game, which was slated for a 707 pm started. Since we were 30 minutes from the hotel, we raced back to change and prepare for the game, and headed by up Interstate 90 back toward Buffalo in time to make the game.
Though there is no onsite parking at Sahlen Field (the reason for which was obvious once we arrived), we had little trouble finding parking within a couple of blocks of the stadium. Not surprisingly, parking was generally $20 that distance from the park, and as high as $35 right next to the ballpark. It seems as though parking prices for MLB games found there way to Buffalo! Once we reached Sahlen Field, we wandered around the outside of the park taking pictures. The outfield area was largely inaccessible from the outside, due to the proximity of Oak Street in left field, and restricted parking outside centerfield and right field. However, along Washington and Swan Streets, we found what appeared to be a recently refurbished look, complete with Toronto Blue Jays signage along the way. We also discovered that this portion of downtown Buffalo contained some older buildings with some interesting architecture. If the weather was kinder than forecast on Saturday, perhaps we would investigate this area further.
Returning to the home plate entrance, we entered the ballpark. Security was unsurprisingly tighter than minor league ballparks, but the process was much smoother than most MLB parks, as the staff was cheerful and helpful. Walking through the tunnel to the interior concourse, we felt as though we were in an MLB stadium, with a large and enthusiastic crowd milling around. It was clear that the ballpark had received a significant upgrade for the MLB games played there in 2020 and 2021. Sahlen Field was covered in Blue Jay blue, from the padded outfield walls to the trim on both the lower level and the private suites.
Typically, we explore the interior of a new stadium shortly after arriving, but the bustling crowd inside the inner concourse made that a bit more difficult than usual. Rather than encircle the playing field on the outer concourse (which was more challenging than other ballparks), we ducked into the tunnels between the inner and outer concourses, taking pictures, and repeating the process from the right field line back toward the left field line. Unlike some stadiums, the concourse did NOT extend around the outfield, as Sahlen Field was tucked in between streets in downtown Buffalo, leaving little room for maneuvering beyond those confines.
As we further explored Sahlen Field, we discovered that it consisted of two decks of seating. The lower deck (separated into two sections by a concrete concourse) extends from the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul line, with the upper portion of the lower deck protected from the elements by the deck of red seats and private suites located above. Seats near the foul poles were angled for a better view of home plate, something we have not seen in many minor league parks, and a nice touch for fans in those locations. In total, the ballpark holds about 16,600 fans, which made it the largest minor league park we have yet visited.
Down the right field line we found the Party Zone, a multi tiered collection of picnic table style benches, covered at the top by a canvas roof. Just to the right of the Party Zone are the bullpens. Constructed shortly before we arrived, the dual leveled bullpen housed the home team on the top tier, and the visiting Texas Rangers on the lower level. Because of the alignment of Sahlen Field, there was only a short wall and a large mesh netting strung across left into centerfield, with Oak Street acting as a barrier. We would later discover that, due to the height of the netting, that it would be difficult for a home run ball to actually land on Oak Street (as its trajectory would more likely deposit in on the other side of the road).
Finished with our exploration of the park, we ducked back into the inner concourse, in search of a baseball dinner. While there were many places to obtain food and drinks, all of the lines were long, as it seemed that many in the large crowd has the same idea. Skipping this option for now, we headed toward our seats. Securing seats only 90 minutes earlier, we opted for section 118, which was down the right field line; a pessimistic forecast precluded us from getting better seats, for fear of a rainout tonight AND Saturday. Though the seats we scored did not offer the best view of home plate, it did give us great sight lines for the rest of the park. As the time of the first pitch arrived, clouds continued to produce intermittent light rain and drizzle, but not enough to delay the game (which was slated for a 707 pm start).
From our seats, we could see some of the larger buildings of Buffalo, most notably the Old Buffalo Post Office. However, the scoreboard in centerfield seems to be the most prominent feature in Sahlen Field. Not quite as sophisticated as scoreboards/videoboards in MLB parks, the scoreboard/videoboard here is an upgrade from what we typically encounter in minor league stadiums (with possibly the exception of Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton, NJ). For the most part, the space was used as a scoreboard, with only a few video replays shown during the game. As mentioned earlier, there were a number of upgrades made to the park to accommodate the Blue Jays in their tenure here, including new LED lights (which are MUCH better than standard lighting), a resurfaced outfield, and the aforementioned bullpens.
While not a sellout, Sahlen Field was about two-thirds full shortly after the first pitch was thrown, with intermittent light rain and drizzle (as it would for the balance of the game). In the bottom of the first inning, we were treated to a home run by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. The Blue Jays tacked on four more runs in the third inning, with two more home runs. Rainy and cool weather at night are not normally conducive to balls flying out of the ballpark, but the smaller dimensions of this park may have been a factor in each of the home runs hit. Meanwhile, the Texas bats remained quiet for the first six innings, as the Blue Jays maintained a sizable lead through that time.
The Blue Jays put the game away in the bottom of the sixth inning, which featured another home run by Guerrero Jr. This time he blasted the ball well over the net in left field and across Oak Street to the parking lot on the other side of the road. With the Jays taking a 10-0 lead at the end of the frame, some of the fans started to file out of Sahlen Field, if for no other reason that to escape the cool and wet conditions. Like many MLB games, there were loud, intoxicated fans around us, but unlike many MLB, they were not particularly obnoxious. It was clear to me that the fans in Buffalo had accepted the Blue Jays as their own, and I noticed several “Buffalo Blue Jays” in the stadium. These signs had me wondering how the Buffalo fans would react if/when the Blue Jays returned to Toronto.
During the morning hours of Saturday, the Blue Jays management issued a press release stating that the Jays would be returning to Toronto, starting with the next home stand on July 30th. Although I am sure the fans were aware of an eventual return to Toronto, I wonder if Buffalo was ready to let them go so soon. Our timing could not have been better to see an MLB game here, as waiting any longer would have meant missing a golden opportunity to see MLB players in such an intimate setting. These were my thoughts as we filed out of Sahlen Field. Leaving the building proved more difficult than I anticipated, as there were logjams at each gate. Eventually, we walked back to the car, headed back to the hotel after a long day on the road.
My brother’s suggestion to see the game at Sahlen Field on Friday night rather than Saturday afternoon loomed large, as heavy rainfall plagued the Buffalo area through mid to late afternoon. After visiting Niagara Falls again in the morning, we encountered flooded roads on our way back to the hotel. Not surprisingly, the game was rained out, even as the heaviest rainfall was exiting the region. Apparently the field was unplayable, and considering how much rain fell into mid afternoon, that was not a shock. Once the heavy rainfall exited, we walked around downtown Buffalo to view the architecture, and we found ourselves face to face with the ballpark. Peering through the chain link in centerfield, we got one last look at the interior of the stadium, with the tarp still firmly in place over the infield.
Once the Blue Jays leave for Toronto, the main tenants of Sahlen Field, the Bisons, will return from their stay in Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton NJ. Buffalo has attempted to obtain a MLB team in the past, and I wonder, after hosting the Blue Jays, if there will be a clamoring from the faithful for an MLB team of their own. If that happens, and a MLB ready stadium is constructed, perhaps we will return. Otherwise, having seen Sahlen Field hosting MLB games, I am not sure we will be back.