Blue Jays to play in Buffalo minor league park amid pandemic

Sports

FILE – In this July 31, 2018, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays top prospect third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks on before a minor league baseball with the Buffalo Bisons against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Buffalo, N.Y. The displaced Toronto Blue Jays will play in Buffalo, New York, this year amid the pandemic. An official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday that the Blue Jays will play at Sahlen Field. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly ahead of an announcement. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

TORONTO (AP) — The displaced Toronto Blue Jays will play in a minor league park in Buffalo, New York, this year after being turned down by the Canadian government and then blocked to play in Pittsburgh by the state of Pennsylvania.

The Blue Jays will play “home games” at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, home of the club’s Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons. General manager Ross Atkins had previously said that if team could not find a major league park, Buffalo would be the most likely site for home games.

The team looked for a major league stadium after the Canadian government declined to allow them to play in Toronto but was unsuccessful in securing a site. Pennsylvania health officials then nixed a deal to play in Pittsburgh with COVID-19 cases on the rise there.

The team also held talks with the Baltimore Orioles about Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but the Blue Jays didn’t want to wait to see if Maryland officials would say no with season starting Friday.

“Baltimore never got to a situation to where we were denied,” Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro said Friday. ”At some point continuing to explore and look at an option like Baltimore was not going to be a risk we could take. That risk of being turned down certainly existed. And so we obviously had to make a decision knowing we had a very good alternative, albeit not a major league one. but one we felt could get close to a major league one.”

Toronto opens the season at Tampa Bay on Friday. The team said the first scheduled home series, against the Washington Nationals on July 29 and 30, will take place on the road to accommodate necessary infrastructure modifications at Sahlen Field to meet Major League Baseball playing standards and COVID-19 safety requirements.

The Blue Jays’ first game in Buffalo will be either on July 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies or on Aug. 11 against the Miami Marlins.

The team had also considered playing home games at its training facility in Dunedin, Florida, but that is among the states that are virus hot spots.

Canada has flattened the epidemic curve. But health officials in Canada and Pennsylvania were worried about frequent travel throughout the U.S., one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE – In this April 9, 2015, file photo, home plate umpire Seth Buckminster signals for the pitch as Buffalo Bisons batter Josh Thole (22) steps into the box during a Triple-A baseball game between the Bisons and Rochester Red Wings in Buffalo, N.Y. The displaced Toronto Blue Jays will play in Buffalo, New York, this year amid the pandemic. An official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday that the Blue Jays will play at Sahlen Field. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly ahead of an announcement. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert, File

Atkins had said this week that his team had more than five contingency plans for a home stadium and was in talks with other teams.

Blue Jays players had made it clear to the front office they wanted to play in a major league park. Outfielder Randal Grichuk Buffalo had described Buffalo as a “worst case.”

“This process has no doubt tested our team’s resilience, but our players and staff refuse to make excuses,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro said “substantial” new construction will be required to upgrade Sahlen Field. The locker needs to be expanded so that social distancing can be practiced. The lights need to be upgraded as well. The team will be incurring the majority if not all of the costs, he said.

The team has also reached out to the Buffalo Sabres about using some of its facilities.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York urged baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred in a letter and call this week to pick Buffalo.

“I’ve always been a Bisons and Bills fan so I guess now I’ll be a Blue Jays fan, at least this year,” Schumer said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It seemed so logical for the Blue Jays to go to Buffalo for geographic and market reasons. If they want to expand their market it’s very good to be in western New York. It’s a good facility. It’s a major league-caliber playing surface.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had told reporters before the announcement that he spoke to Manfred on Friday morning.

“If we can get Toronto playing here, I say great. We have the protocols in place, it will be done safely,” Cuomo said. “I’d rather it happen here. It’s good for Buffalo.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan acknowledged in an interview with the AP on Thursday that there had been talks about the state hosting the Blue Jays. A spokesman for the Baltimore mayor’s office says the city “didn’t have any involvement” on the Blue Jays Buffalo decision.

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