12:21 PM ET
ESPN News Services
The displaced Toronto Blue Jays will play the majority of their home games in Buffalo, New York, this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, the team announced Friday.
The Blue Jays will play at Sahlen Field, home of the team’s Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons.
“We are extremely grateful to have a home in Buffalo this season, thanks to the openness, creativity, and partnership of the Buffalo Bisons, Major League Baseball, and Blue Jays staff, who have worked tirelessly to prepare us for games at Sahlen Field,” Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro said in a statement. “This process has no doubt tested our team’s resilience, but our players and staff refuse to make excuses — we are determined to take the field on Opening Day today, and for the coming months, with the same intensity and competitiveness that our fans expect.”
Toronto begins the season at Tampa Bay on Friday. The team said the first scheduled home series, against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday and Thursday, will take place on the road to accommodate infrastructure modifications at Sahlen Field to meet Major League Baseball playing standards and COVID-19 safety requirements.
Shapiro said “substantial” new construction will be required to upgrade Sahlen Field. The locker room needs to be expanded so that social distancing can be practiced. The lights need be upgraded as well. The team will be incurring the majority if not all of the costs, Shapiro said.
The team has also reached out to the Buffalo Sabres about using some of their facilities.
Slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. expects the Buffalo’s park to favor pitchers because it is a larger field than the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
“It’s going to be different because of the way it is in Toronto compared to Buffalo,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “There are no fans anyway. We’re just going to go play baseball.”
The Blue Jays had been looking for a major league park after the Canadian government declined to allow them to play in Toronto and the state of Pennsylvania nixed a deal to play in Pittsburgh because of frequent travel throughout the United States.
A source told ESPN’s Marly Rivera that Maryland offered to allow the Blue Jays to start playing at Camden Yards in September, but the team decided it did not want to wait.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that there had been talks about the state hosting the Blue Jays, but the team didn’t want to wait to see if Maryland officials would say no with its season starting Friday.
“Baltimore never got to a situation to where we were denied,” Shapiro said. “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.”
In a letter, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York urged MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to pick Buffalo.
“Since it is Opening Day, there is little time for continued deliberation — now is the time to act — and Buffalo is ready to roll out the red carpet and welcome Major League Baseball to Sahlen Field and Western New York,” he wrote. “I strongly urge MLB and the Blue Jays to choose Buffalo as your home for the 2020 season.”
Schumer noted the partnership between the Bisons and Blue Jays has been strong since their affiliation began in 2013.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo 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.”
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said this week that his team had more than five contingency plans for a home stadium and was in talks with other teams. Atkins had previously said if the Blue Jays couldn’t find a major league park, Buffalo would be their most likely site for home games. But it lacks major league-caliber facilities.
The team had been considering playing home games at its training facility in Dunedin, Florida, but that is among the states that are virus hot spots.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.