BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – At 7 a.m. Monday, Sahlen Field will be full of people breaking the ballpark down and getting it ready for winter. The playoff-bound Toronto Blue Jays, who have played most of their 2020 home schedule in Buffalo due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have three more games in town this weekend against the Baltimore Orioles.
The Jays clinched that playoff birth in a 4-1 win over the New York Yankees Thursday night. Their wild card playoff round will begin on Tuesday. It’s mathematically impossible for them to host a playoff game, guaranteeing the last major league ball game in Buffalo indefinitely will take place Sunday. The first one in 105 years was played on August 11th, which was the team’s first game in Buffalo.
The two month experience was a winner for the City of Buffalo, and the Buffalo Bisons, city and team officials say.
“Opening Day was very exciting. There was kind of a big buildup to it,” said Bisons General Manager Anthony Sprague. “Playoffs, we were always hopeful and hopeful Sahlen Field was going to be a big home field advantage.”
It was. The Blue Jays record at Sahlen Field so far is 15-8, with those three games against Baltimore left to play.
“I think our time here was awesome,” Blue Jays Manager Charlie Montoyo said before their game Friday evening. “We made it into our home ballpark.”
“All the credit goes to the Blue Jays for setting this place up and making it look as close to a big league ballpark (as possible). The clubhouse and everything was great. Everybody was happy. It was a great time here,” he added.
“We kind of realized what we gained out of this is a true partner and a true friend in a lot of the Jays staff here,” Sprague added. “We worked together for two months.”
Mayor Byron Brown points toward the $5 million in work done to Sahlen Field to get it ready to host MLB games as a simple example of how beneficial this experience has been for the region. Some of those upgrades, such as the new light bulbs, will be here long after the Jays leave town. But Brown says the benefits go far beyond that.
“People now that are looking at making investments in Buffalo and other development firms from other parts of the state and nation that have reached out about doing projects in Buffalo really come from a lot of the national exposure that we have gotten from the Blue Jays playing here,” Brown said.
The hospitality industry also appears to have received a boost.
“You can obviously see a bit of a jump month over month on specific days,” Visit Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Patrick Kaler said of the area’s hotels.
Kaler checked the numbers. He says hotel occupancy in the area had a 7-10% uptick on game days over previous months. In the midst of the pandemic, they’ll take what they can get.
“This is a very unique situation,” Kaler said. “If you think about 9/11, as well as the economic downturn of 2008, the tourism industry took significant hits during both of those situations. Tourism came back a lot quicker though.”
The Blue Jays just might have been Buffalo’s favorite tourists over the past two months.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.