Blue Jays to roost in Buffalo

Empty stadium at Rogers Centre. (Photo courtesy of Toronto Blue Jays via Twitter.)

With an abbreviated Major League Baseball season now underway, the Toronto Blue Jays have found a place to play home games this season.

The Blue Jays confirmed via Twitter Friday afternoon that the team will play the “majority” of its home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York. The stadium is the home of the Blue Jays’ Triple-A minor league team, the Buffalo Bisons.  The eleventh-hour development was first reported via Twitter by Dan Connelly of The Athletic.

Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro made the official announcement around lunchtime Friday.

“We are extremely grateful to have a home in Buffalo this season, thanks to the openness, creativity, and partnership of the Buffalo Bisons, Major League Baseball, and Blue Jays staff, who have worked tirelessly to prepare us for games at Sahlen Field,” said Shapiro. “This process has no doubt tested our team’s resilience, but our players and staff refuse to make excuses. We are determined to take the field on Opening Day [Friday], and for the coming months, with the same intensity and competitiveness that our fans expect.”

The Jays will play their first scheduled home series against the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals on the road Wednesday and Thursday to allow time for crews to prepare Sahlen Field for games. The stadium is said to require upgrades in its lighting. The facility will also have to be renovated to allow for physical distancing. As a result, the Jays will either play their first game at Sahlen Field on July 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies or on August 11 against the Miami Marlins.

Friday’s announcement is the conclusion of what has been a frustrating saga for the club. The Blue Jays are unable to play games at the Rogers Centre in Toronto because the Canadian government denied the team an exemption to the federal Quarantine Act to allow players to cross the border to play without having to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Blue Jays’ spring training compound at Dunedin, Florida was an early favourite to host home games, but that plan was also ruled out due to a significant spike of COVID-19 cases in Florida. A plan announced earlier this week to have the Jays share PNC Park in Pittsburgh with the Pirates also fell through.

Toronto begins its 60-game season Friday night at Tampa Bay.