Blue Jays make victorious start at transformed Sahlen Field

Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday (Tuesday) made a winning start to their temporary residence at Sahlen Field after a transformation project that one club official stated packed a year’s worth of work into a fortnight.

The Blue Jays defeated the Miami Marlins 5-4 in its first game at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York. The ballpark was last month confirmed as its ‘home from home’ after it was refused permission to play at Rogers Centre.

Earlier in July, the Canadian government denied the Blue Jays’ request to play at its regular home venue amid concerns over the COVID-19 situation in the US, with the team needing to travel frequently between the two countries to play games.

MLB needed to secure an exemption to a requirement that anyone entering Canada for non-essential reasons must self-isolate for 14 days, with the border remaining closed to non-essential travel until at least August 21.

The Canadian government’s decision left the Blue Jays with a tight timeframe to decide on its new home, with Dunedin, Florida; Pittsburgh and Baltimore also being considered before the team announced that it had finalised plans to play at Sahlen Field, the home of its Triple-A affiliate the Buffalo Bisons.

Along with dressing up Sahlen Field in Blue Jays colours and branding, the team transported four moving trucks of equipment from Rogers Centre, mainly for the training areas and clubhouses. These areas take up the majority of the space underneath Sahlen Field’s bleachers to allow for physical distancing, while visiting teams are using new infrastructure to house their facilities.

The Blue Jays also upgraded the lighting at Sahlen Field to MLB standard, installing new bulbs and adding two temporary lighting trucks. A new infield was also installed. A total of 25 club personnel worked on the project, including Marnie Starkman, senior vice-president of marketing and business operations.

She told Canadian broadcaster Sportsnet: “Our team down here has done a ton of work — I’m crazy proud of what we were able to put together for our guys in trying to make Buffalo the best home possible for hopefully 27-plus games.

“These are plans that normally would have taken a year. I keep joking with everyone — it’s like the worst imaginable fan fest, putting it together in two weeks. That’s what it feels like. So, as much as we had plans and drawings, there’s a ton of things that come up as you do this.”

The Blue Jays worked in association with MLB and BaAM Productions, a Toronto-based production company. An operations manual BaAM created for MLB’s ultimately postponed ‘Field of Dreams’ project, was adapted to be applied to Sahlen Field.

Starkman also said the Blue Jays leant heavily on the expertise of the Boston Red Sox, looking at how they adapted Fenway Park to stage games during COVID-19. “The Red Sox have been fantastic,” Starkman said. “What they did with space really gave us creativity in how we could use the concourse. They were great in sharing their plans.”

Looking forward, Starkman believes the work carried out will have a long-term benefit for the club’s future minor-leaguers. She added: “The Bisons have been so great to work with. And we feel like a lot of the work that we’ve done here will be beneficial for the guys that will show up here next year to play for the Bisons.”

Image: Toronto Blue Jays