Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with the Buffalo Bisons. Source: Twitter/@buffalobisons.
Former Mayor of Buffalo Jimmy Griffin was instrumental in the construction of Sahlen Field, with the hopes of attracting Major League Baseball to Buffalo, NY. Thirty-two years after construction completed, Griffin’s wish may be finally fulfilled.
On Saturday, the Canadian federal government denied the Toronto Blue Jays the ability to play their home games at Rogers Center. This denial leaves the Blue Jays with the options to play their home games in Buffalo, NY at Sahlen Field, or in Dunedin, Florida at the Blue Jays’ spring training facility. This news breaks less than a week before Major League Baseball is set to open its season.
Recently, the Canadian government allowed 14-day quarantine exceptions for the National Hockey League to finish its schedule in two “hubs,” Toronto and Edmonton. However, the plan set out by the NHL would have teams staying in the designated cities until their respective seasons conclude with elimination from the playoffs. The proposal from the Blue Jays and MLB would create safe-zones for the teams, but teams would travel in and out of Toronto like any other season.
In denying the Jays the National Interest Exemption, the Canadian government issued the following statement:
Of particular note is Mendicino’s emphasis upon the fact that the regular season schedule would require the Jays to “play in locations where the risk of virus transmission is high. Based upon the best-available public health advice, we have concluded that the cross-border travel required for MLB regular season play would not adequately protect Canadian’s health and safety.”
Sahlen Field is the home of the Blue Jays’ AAA affiliate Buffalo Bisons. As detailed in Mike Harrington’s report in The Buffalo News, the Blue Jays and Bisons may have to upgrade the lighting, clubhouse, and media space for Major League play. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown have expressed their support of the idea through Twitter.
Despite necessary stadium improvements, Buffalo has one clear advantage over Dunedin: consistent, low COVID rates.
The latest update by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, seen below, states that Erie County had a daily positivity rate of 1.6% on July 17th. This tweet is also accompanied by a tweet made by County Executive Poloncarz two days earlier that COVID hospitalization rates dropped again.
Pinellas County, home of Dunedin, is a whole other story. 305 positive cases were reported by the Florida Department of Health Saturday, bringing the total of cases in Pinellas County to 13,019. When compared to the latest numbers from Erie County, Pinellas County has more than five times the amount of daily positives.
With a total of 80 MLB players reported as COVID positive so far, clearly the relative safety of the playing environment has to be a, if not THE, most significant concern of both MLB and the Blue Jays. Moreover, the MLBPA is sure to weigh in on this decision, with five Pinellas County hospitals reporting that they have maxed out their ICU beds. As the clock ticks toward Opening Day, Jimmy Griffin’s legacy downtown ballpark may yet host Major League Baseball.