BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Top Erie County officials are on board with a plan for the Toronto Blue Jays to play a majority of their 2020 home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. However, documents uncovered by News 4 show the extent to which Dr. Gale Burstein, the county’s health commissioner, was once concerned about a visit from one of their opponents.
The first game scheduled to be played at Sahlen Field will be on August 11th. The Blue Jays will host the Miami Marlins, a team which reportedly dealt with an outbreak of COVID-19 in its clubhouse last week. The Marlins played their first game in nine days on Tuesday night against Baltimore.
“(T)he risks of the Miami Marlins coming to Buffalo far outweighs [sic] the benefits,” Burstein wrote in an email to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on July 27th.
News 4 obtained the email through an open records request. In it, Burstein listed nine concerns, generally centered around the premise that players would be able to freely spend time in public.
“These players… will be free to go out and mingle in the community at bars and restaurants,” Burstein wrote. “Since they are celebrities, they will attract and expose Erie County residents.”
“Our children are returning to school in (a) few weeks if the proportion of COVID positive tests remain below 5%,” she added. “We do not want to take any unnecessary risks that could increase community viral spread and jeopardize schools re-opening.”
The health commissioner also wrote, “The Marlins and Blue Jays are not even our own professional sports teams. They have no connection to our community and only bring risk.”
So what changed? Last Thursday, three days after Burstein sent that email to Poloncarz, both of them were involved in a video call with Major League Baseball officials. Poloncarz said the league agreed all players and staff for the Blue Jays and their opponents would not be allowed to leave their hotel, except to travel to Sahlen Field or the airport.
The county executive said the league also confirmed its teams would be subject to New York State’s guidance regarding professional sports travel. That document states any team traveling to New York from an area on the state’s travel advisory list must quarantine, and avoid all public places, except to play, practice, or meet. A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health clarified that this rule applies to any individual who has traveled within a state on the advisory within the previous 14 days.
Four of the nine teams on the Blue Jays 2020 schedule now play in such a state or district, after Washington, D.C. was removed from the list earlier this week. The four teams are the Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, and Baltimore Orioles.
After the meeting with MLB officials, Burstein appeared much more comfortable with the prospect of the Marlins and other teams traveling to Buffalo.
“We applaud Major League Baseball’s focus on practicing robust public health measures to ensure that team players and the community remain healthy and safe,” Burstein said in a statement. “County Executive Poloncarz and I left the meeting feeling confident that strong safeguards are in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission among the players or in our community.”
County officials say the league has also agreed it will follow all health and safety orders issued by Poloncarz and Burstein.
“Based on our conversation and the protocols put in place, it is apparent to me MLB is taking extremely serious the safety of all, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak occurred with the Miami Marlins,” Poloncarz said.
The Blue Jays are forced to play their 2020 season in Buffalo after they failed to receive permission from the Canadian government to play their games in Toronto.
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.