The Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, announced Friday that they will open their 2021 season in Trenton, NJ, while the Blue Jays complete an ongoing construction project to prepare Sahlen Field for Major League regular season games later this summer.
The Blue Jays currently plan to spend their first three homestands of the season, through May 24, at Dunedin’s TD Ballpark, where they held their home opener against the Angels on Thursday. No plans have been made official, but given the ongoing closure of the Canada-US border to non-essential travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks very likely that the Blue Jays eventually will spend a stretch of their season playing out of Buffalo once again as they work toward their long-term goal of returning to Rogers Centre later in 2021.
Last season, the Blue Jays called Buffalo home for the shortened, 60-game season, going 17-9 at Sahlen Field.
One of the most noticeable visual changes changes will be a relocation of the bullpens, which are coming off the field and moving beyond the outfield walls. The Blue Jays will then build new batting cages beyond the right-field wall and renovate the stadium’s weight room and clubhouse facilities. The lighting will also be upgraded with LED bulb replacements and two new temporary light poles.
Starting this season in Dunedin has been a sensible first step for the Blue Jays, as they’ve been able to stay at their Spring Training home, which recently underwent renovations itself. Across town in Dunedin, they also have the club’s state-of-the art Player Development Complex, so they have access to all of the resources they could need. Playing in the Florida heat and dealing with rain through the heart of the summer would be challenging, though.
The organization’s primary focus is getting back to Rogers Centre as early as they can safely do so, but that will be a complicated process. The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States and Canada brings optimism, but on Friday, the province of Ontario — approximate population, 15 million — reported over 4,000 cases of COVID-19, and the province is currently under a stay-at-home order. The main factor in the Blue Jays’ plans will continue to be the Canada-US border.
In the expected scenario that the Blue Jays need a home for the summer months, though, Buffalo has already proven to be a comfortable landing spot for the organization, and these renovations should only improve that. The Bisons will continue to benefit from these changes, as well, and the Triple-A club should see many of Toronto’s top prospects in 2021.
“While temporarily inconvenient, the good news about these ballpark renovations is that the upgrades the Blue Jays and the Bisons are making will also have a long-lasting effect on baseball in Buffalo,” Bisons GM Anthony Sprague said in a statement. “Far exceeding the new required Major League Baseball Player Development League facility standards, Sahlen Field will once again become one of the premier locations for player training and performance amenities in Minor League baseball, ensuring high-quality baseball in Western New York for many seasons to come.”
The Bisons’ home opener is scheduled for May 4 against the Worcester Red Sox, which begins a 12-game homestand to open their regular season.
“After a nearly decade-long partnership with the Toronto Blue Jays, these Sahlen Field upgrades are a natural progression of our successful partnership. Sahlen Field is one of the oldest ballparks in all of Triple-A, so these upgrades are essential for the long-term success of having high-quality baseball in Buffalo, NY, for many years to come,” said Mike Buczkowski, president, Rich Baseball Operations in a statement. “We thank the Trenton Thunder organization for opening their doors and welcoming the Bisons so this renovation can be completed.”