Major League Baseball in Buffalo a strange but fun experience

Last Sunday, I did something I never thought I’d do. Certainly never anytime soon.

I went to a Major League Baseball game in Buffalo, N.Y.

Head below the jump for thoughts from a day in Buffalo.

As you all know by now, the border with Canada remains closed due to COVID-19, and so the Toronto Blue Jays are playing (after an early-season stay at their spring home in Dunedin) again in Buffalo. Now, they did this last year, but there were no fans. This year, there are. Initially it was restricted, but as more people have become vaccinated the stadium is now almost entirely open. So, needless to say, I went to a game- last Sunday’s game between Toronto and Baltimore, to be exact. I had a good time.

Oh, also I got a good sequence of pictures of Ryan Mountcastle’s home run swing:

Sadly it didn’t include the actual picture of bat hitting ball.

The game itself was fairly good, considering how bad the Orioles have been this year as well as the fact that Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini started on the bench (they later came in to pinch-hit), with Baltimore threatening several times to close the gap only for Toronto’s infamous bullpen refusing to break.

Plus it is scientifically impossible to be bored at a game that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is playing.

Seen here knocking a sharp ground-ball down the left-field line for a double.

Going 2-4 with two RBIs, I can say after having seen him now (after seeing one or two games of his time in AAA) that everything you have heard about him is true. Every at-bat he has is a time to sit on the edge of your seat just in case he does something amazing. If not for the fact that Shohei Ohtani exists, he would be the runaway MVP as we approach the break.

However, you don’t want to read my thoughts on a game that was nearly a week ago. Instead, I’m going to talk about the experience of going to a Major League Baseball game in Buffalo, because it’s weird but fun.

The first thing that’s weird about is just how pervasive the Toronto branding is. If you were to have been kidnapped from a random location and forced to wake up in Sahlen Field these days, you’d think that the stadium had been built for the Blue Jays from the very beginning, perhaps as some sort of alternate site to play games when the dome is busy with other events. It is extremely hard to find any indication that the stadium is for the Buffalo Bisons, or even that it is in Buffalo at all. Seemingly every bare wall is plastered in Blue Jays blue. Even the advertisements have been changed to Canadian markets, no doubt for the fans back up north watching at home.

Panorama of Sahlen Field pre-game (click to enlarge)

Underneath, it’s similar. Although the advertisements are generally more local, the place is still completely and utterly blue’d in most places and you have to look hard to find any reference or appearance of the usual tenant, the Buffalo Bisons. Well, beyond the fact that Conehead the beer salesman (a staple at events in Buffalo and Rochester) was there:

“Get a warm beer from me, you drink it for free!”

One of the best things about seeing MLB in Sahlen Field is that it’s still very much a minor league stadium as far as sightlines. There is probably not a bad seat in the house, and as a result regardless of where you are seated you’ll get a great view. On the other hand, aside from the lack of outfield seating you would probably feel like you are in a MLB stadium thanks to upgrades that the Blue Jays have made to the stadium’s playing field and lighting. There are some things that give away the temporary nature of the stadium’s MLB tenure (such as the fact that the main visitors dressing room is in a temporary structure beyond the right field wall), it feels like an unusually small MLB stadium, but a MLB stadium nonetheless.

Of course, it helps matters that Sahlen Field was originally meant to be an MLB stadium. Buffalo made a serious attempt in the early 90s only to lose out to Miami and Colorado. Still, when the stadium was built as Pilot Field in the late 80s, it was built with expansion in mind. Someone even shared concept art on Twitter of what the expanded stadium would have looked like:

The addition of another deck and seats in the outfield would have brought the total capacity to around 40,000. The look the hypothetical MLB Buffalo Stadium has is a strange crossover between eras: it has the neo-retro look that stadiums like Camden Yards and Jacobs Field popularized (not surprising, as the architects for Pilot Field would later build many of the retro stadiums and had used Pilot as a testing ground), but also has the hilariously steep and generally characterless upper deck of what new Comiskey Park (now Guaranteed Rate Field) had when it initially opened just before Camden Yards changed ballpark architecture forever. Those additions didn’t happen, so it is a bit strange to watch a MLB game in what is literally a half-built stadium.

It’s unlikely, of course, that Buffalo will get a permanent MLB team. Certainly not any time soon. So that makes the games that are taking place special, for all the strange things about them.

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