Let’s Go (To) Buffalo!
By Max Toth
The Toronto Blue Jays will soon be taking the field for their first actual "home" game of the season. But, as has been well-documented, to get last bat in friendly territory, they'll have to go to Buffalo. Even though it's just over the border from Toronto, a lot of Jays fans have never taken a trip to watch the organization's top farm club. But for my family Sahlen Field, home of the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, is very familiar as we try to get there a few times every year. So, in honour of the Blue Jays brand new “home away from home”, here are some of my favourite Buffalo baseball memories.
In my dad‘s “Take me out to the Ball Game” blog, he talked about the plight of hunting foul balls at the Rogers Centre. But at Sahlen Field, it’s a much different story. Despite being minor league baseball's highest capacity ballpark, with room for 16,600 fans, it still offers an intimate experience which is perfect for prospective ballhawks. My brother Theo and I have been quite successful on days when we‘re able to jump across the border quick enough to catch the pre-game warm ups. Our all-time total for balls at the Rogers Centre is a rather measly two, whereas our very first time tracking down balls at Sahlen Field yielded a grand total of three.
Since the Blue Jays hooked up with the Bisons in 2013, Buffalo has been the place to be for an up-close and personal peek at future Jays such as Vlad Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Nate Pearson. We’ve joined the rest of the diehard Jays fans looking for a glimpse into the future and a chance to see what makes these young phenoms so special before they take to an MLB field. We saw the great competitive spirit of Bo Bichette when he smacked a late-inning double after fighting through a lengthy at-bat, even though the Bisons were getting thumped and had no real chance of coming back. Believe it or not, we also saw Vladdy Jr‘s sneaky defensive potential when he actually made some impressive plays at third base. Since then, of course, Vladdy has been handed a first baseman's mitt. But as we saw in Buffalo, if the big guy can actually get to a ball, he's got a pretty good chance of hanging on to it.
One of the staples of Bisons baseball is Star Wars night. The main attraction each year is the Star Wars-style movie they show between innings on the center field video board. The actors don't exactly give Harrison Ford and company a run for their money. In fact, some of them might be up on the screen because they’re the only people in Buffalo with a realistic Chewbacca costume. But they really put their hearts into their performance and the night always ends with a huge bang…..literally. That's because, following a huge on-the-field lightsaber battle that serves as the movie's grand finale, there's a spectacular fireworks show that ties the whole evening together.
When this year's Blue Jays first learned they were Buffalo-bound because of COVID-19, a lot of the players didn't seem too thrilled. But in the end, Sahlen Field may serve as a pleasant break for the big leaguers. After all, unlike the concrete sprawl of the Rogers Centre, the ballpark in Buffalo is a gorgeous little baseball oasis.
So, while the Blue Jays spread their (Buffalo) wings and get used to their brand new digs, I’ll be busy brushing up on my Luke Skywalker trivia in preparation for next year's Star Wars night when the world hopefully returns to normal.
In the meantime?
May the Force, and the Blue Jays, be with you!