BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Like a dagger to the heart of anyone who was hoping to sneak an in-person glimpse of Major League Baseball at Sahlen Field, officials have installed fencing around most of the ballpark. The move cuts down on potential slight-lines for those who were planning on coming down to the stadium Tuesday evening, when the Toronto Blue Jays “host” the Miami Marlins in the first major league game in Buffalo since 1915.
“I would just ask people not to waste time coming down hoping the Bisons or Blue Jays missed something,” said Captain Jeff Rinaldo of the Buffalo Police Department.
It’s a precaution to cut down on the spread of COVID-19. For that same reason, fans won’t be allowed in the stadium. New York State guidance for professional sports competitions with no fans requires teams to prohibit fans from congregating around the stadium. The Blue Jays are playing their 2020 home schedule at Sahlen Field after the Canadian government denied them permission to play in Toronto in the midst of the pandemic.
“Sahlen Field is ready. The City of Buffalo is ready,” Mayor Byron Brown declared Monday morning. Brown also announced the Blue Jays would incur the cost of overtime for Buffalo police related to their games.
It took a lot of work in a short period of time. Marnie Starkman, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Operations for the Blue Jays, said it is a priority to make the team feel like they were at home.
“We’re happy so far,” Starkman said. “We’ll see as we live through this phase. We’re pretty proud of what collectively we were able to accomplish.”
A lot of work was also done to comply with social distancing protocols, as required by the league. The visiting team will be using the compound built beyond right center field. It will allow the Jays to spread out in the actual stadium. Much of the temporary space that has been created will go away when the season ends. But some things, like the new lightbulbs and infield grass, will stay.
“The interior stuff that has been done in our home clubhouse, which is really the home and away clubhouse, we’ll work with Mike (Buczkowski and the Bisons) to determine what will stay,” Starkman said. “A lot of it was paint, carpet, and branding. Some of that will stay because it’s all new for them.”
The Bisons are the Blue Jays AAA farm team.
All of the work ordered by the Blue Jays is in addition to $759,000 in improvements done this past offseason by the city, which owns the stadium. Starkman said the team was still “working through” the final price tag of their project. Buczkowski, the President of Rich Baseball Operations, the Bisons parent organization, called it a “significant investment” in the stadium.
“The Blue Jays have relied on a lot of local companies to do some of the things you can even see from the outside,” Buczkowski said.
“I said to people if you close your eyes and walked in and opened them, you might think you’re at the Rogers Centre,” he added.
The Blue Jays contracted BaAM Productions, a project management and event production company based in Toronto, for the project.
“They subcontracted companies,” Starkman said. “Where we can, we worked with local crews. They’ve been honestly, absolutely fantastic to work with. The Bisons obviously had vendors. The Buffalo Bills have been fantastic to work with as well. They’ve provided us with vendors they use in the local area.”
Jay Medynski has welcomed all of it. He’s the general manager of Union Pub, across the street from Sahlen Field.
“We’ve had a ton of crews coming in for lunch and then after hours coming in for some dinner,” Medynski said. “It’s busy over there.”
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.