The Toronto Blue Jays will begin the second phase of their 2021 MLB home schedule tonight when they open at Sahlen Field, normally the home of the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A East).
The Blue Jays began the season at their spring-training home, Dunedin’s TD Ballpark, for April and May home games. It was not necessarily a successful tenure: the team went 10-11 and players found the playing conditions to be less than ideal. At the end of the day, TD Ballpark is a perfectly charming Grapefruit League venue, but hardly worthy of long-term Major League Baseball play.
So tonight sees the beginning of 2021 regular-season play for the Jays at Sahlen Field. True, we’re still talking minor-league ballpark here, but we’re talking about something closer to an MLB home, with upgraded lighting and turf and a double-deck setup to minimize weather impacts on play. And, of course, the Jays will have fans in the stands, with capacities increasing over coming weeks.
The improvements to Sahlen Field include:
- Indoor player facilities – complete player facility renovation featuring a new home clubhouse; weight and cardio rooms; player lounge with nutrition station; athletic training, hydrotherapy, and recovery rooms; and coaches locker room
- This space will be modified to accommodate visiting clubs when the Bisons return to Sahlen Field
- Bullpens – original bullpens removed from the field of play and new stacked bullpens built in right field
- Outfield – resodded outfield grass and replaced warning track, outfield wall padding, and foul poles (infield grass was replaced prior to the shortened 2020 season)
- Batting cages – brand new permanent structure at the south end of the stadium, featuring two large cages with indoor mounds and climate control
- Lighting – replaced all permanent light poles with new LED lights and added banks to back poles, plus added two temporary LED light poles for MLB games
- Ballpark and concourse – exterior and interior fan-facing ballpark branding and wayfinding for improved fan experience
Players are thrilled, per the Toronto Sun:
“I will say this — as a team we loved playing at Sahlen Field last year,” utility infielder Joe Panik said. “I don’t know what it was, but we played really good ball there.
“Trust me — we would all love to be in Toronto. But with the circumstances the way they are, I’m really looking forward to getting to Buffalo and we’ll get some Blue Jays fans up there.”
Which brings us to the big issue: when will the Jays be able to return to Rogers Centre? We’re seeing fans gradually return to NHL arenas in very limited capacities, but that doesn’t address border restrictions forcing quarantines for those crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. August 1 is quietly being discussed as a goal for the Jays to return home; we’ll see whether this is feasible.
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Photo of Sahlen Field from August 2020, courtesy Toronto Blue Jays.