Blue Jays games to bring several thousands of people together downtown for first time in COVID era

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – While the Toronto Blue Jays did play in Buffalo in 2020, the 2021 season is expected to be a whole new ballgame. The team is returning to Sahlen Field June 1st, as the border between the U.S. and Canada is still shut down because of the coronavirus. There will be fans this time around. And that means money.

“This will be the first time that we’ve had a major event taking place in Downtown Buffalo since a year ago,” noted Patrick Kaler, the President and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara.

While the Buffalo Sabres did allow fans into a few of their games this season, attendance for Blue Jays games will far exceed those numbers. And the Bills did let roughly 6,700 fans in to see two of their playoff games in January. But those games took place in Orchard Park, of course.

“I think we’re definitely going to be ready,” Kaler said.

For now, the Blue Jays are planning to allow about 4,000 fans in to see their games. That’s 24% of capacity at Sahlen Field. However, Governor Andrew Cuomo has since said if large outdoor venues could separate vaccinated fans from un-vaccinated fans, they could fill the vaccinated areas to full capacity. Buffalo Bisons President Mike Buczkowski said the Jays are evaluating that announcement.

Either way, it’s certain that several thousands of people will be funneling into Downtown Buffalo on gamedays. At Union Pub, which sits directly across the street from Sahlen Field, they welcomed the Blue Jays to town with open arms in 2020. Manager Jay Medynski says baseball fans came to his bar just to be around the ballpark at the same time a Major League Baseball game was happening across the street.

But in 2021, with fans in the stadium, the expectations are even higher.

“We are very excited,” Medynski said. “We’re just looking for opportunities, just like all the other businesses downtown, to spread our wings and get back to normal. This is a big step forward to doing that.”

In 2020, Union Pub was the only game in town. It was the only bar within one block of the ballpark. But that’s not the case this year. Washington Square Bar and Grill was reopened in February under new ownership.

“Never have we had actually to deal with thousands of people coming down for this,” said Brendan Swords, Washington Square’s co-owner and bar manager. “So this is going to require us to create some specials for it.”

Swords compared the Blue Jays playing games at Sahlen Field to finding a one in a million winning lottery ticket. By the time the Jays play their first game in Buffalo, there will be no more COVID curfews for restaurants in New York. There won’t be any capacity restrictions either.

“It’s all a classic game of Jenga,” Swords said. “What can we fit in without going overboard?”

“It’s going to be fun. I’m excited for it,” he added. “We’re ready to enforce all the COVID rules that are still leftover at that point.”

Tickets for the first three Blue Jays series at Sahlen Field go on sale Tuesday for Bisons season ticket holders, and Thursday for the general public.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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