BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – For 642 days, the 16,600 seats in Sahlen Field went untouched. Coronavirus restrictions left fans on the outside looking in.
But that all changed Tuesday night. For the first time since the Buffalo Bisons dropped a 7-6 decision to the Rochester Red Wings on August 29th, 2019, fans funneled through the Swan and Washington Street gates of the ballpark to watch America’s pastime.
This time, it wasn’t Minor League Baseball to which they were entertained. It was the big time: Major League Baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays hosted the Miami Marlins in the first of an undetermined number of games at Sahlen Field in 2021. The official paid attendance was 5,321.
The occasion marked the first Major League Baseball game in Buffalo with fans since 1915. It was also the first time in the COVID-era that several thousands of people gathered in Downtown Buffalo for one event.
“Anyone would be nervous, I would think,” said ticket holder Mark Skieresz. “But you have to get used to it.”
Indeed, this is a world with the coronavirus. Whatever nerves any of the spectators had were left at the door. Some, like Salah Abdelhadi and Areeg Rehman, didn’t even have a ticket, yet went downtown anyway. They were simply drawn to the crowd at Sahlen Field.
“I saw there was a lot of excitement around the stadium,” explained Abdelhadi. “So I thought I’d walk around and check it out.”
A sign of the times, a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic, run by ECMC, was set up near the ballpark’s Oak Street gate. Hospital officials say 15 people received a shot. Alex Blasky was one of them.
“I was coming to the game and I was planning on doing it,” Blasky explained. “I figured two birds, one stone. It was pretty convenient.”
There’s no doubt the Blue Jays would like to get back home to Toronto as soon as possible. Mark Shapiro, the club’s president and CEO, told members of the media before the game Tuesday figuring out a way to do that with the United States/Canadian border closed is “not an easy thing to do”.
“What I would suggest to you is that until the border is open, there are significant challenges with us returning to Toronto to play,” Shapiro said.
For the time being, the Blue Jays are in Buffalo through July 4th. Tickets for games from June 24th trough the Fourth of July go on sale next Thursday.
“Realities are we can certainly start to think beyond the tickets that we’ve put on sale at this point, and we’ll probably announce putting more tickets on sale,” Shapiro said.
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.