Sahlen Field

From BR Bullpen

  • Name: Sahlen Field
  • GPS-able Address: 1 James D. Griffin Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14203
  • Ballpark Owner: City of Buffalo
  • Architects: HOK Sport (now Populous)
  • Groundbreaking: 7/10/1986
  • Minor League Baseball Teams: Buffalo Bisons (AAA) 1988-present
  • Class/League History: AAA/International League 2022-present; AAA/Triple-A East 2021; AAA/International League 1998-2020; AAA/American Association 1988-1997
  • First Professional Baseball Game: 4/14/1988; stadium debut of Class AAA Bisons
  • Others Playing or Operating Here: Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Previous Ballpark Names: Coca-Cola Field 2009-2018; Dunn Tire Park 1999-2008; North AmeriCare Park 1995-1999; Downtown Ballpark 1995; Pilot Field 1988-1995
  • LF: 325 CF: 404 RF: 325
  • Seats: 16,600
  • Stated Capacity: abt 17,000
  • House Baseball/Softball Record Attendance (as currently configured): 16,409, 5/30/2019

The outside of the ballpark
The interior of the ballpark
Aerial view of the field, known as Dunn Tire park at the time.

Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY, is the home of the Buffalo Bisons, the Toronto Blue Jays' Triple-A International League farm team. It also hosted the Jays themselves for parts of the 2020 and 2021 seasons, holds the longest streak of seven-figure attendance seasons in the minors, and is the home of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame.

Restrictions on crossing the Canada-United States border resulted in Sahlen serving as the Jays' home ballpark for most of the shortened 2020 season, and also the 2021 season from June 1st through July 21st. While the 2020 games were played without spectators, tickets to the first eight-game homestand of 2021 sold out in less than six hours.

The 2020 choice of Buffalo was announced only hours prior to the Jays' first game of the season, on July 24th, and the team added that it would first make improvements to the ballpark's locker rooms and lighting system to bring these closer to major league standards. It was ready to host its first MLB game on August 11th, with the Blue Jays hosting the Miami Marlins. The Blue Jays played very well in their temporary digs, which was key to their securing a spot in the postseason.

In 2021, with the border still closed, they started the year at their spring training complex, TD Ballpark, in Dunedin, FL, but moved back to Buffalo later during the summer. In order to prepare the facilities for their use once again, the Bisons moved temporarily as well, to the Trenton, NJ, stadium - then Arm & Hammer Park, now renamed Trenton Thunder Ballpark - that had just lost its Double-A team in MLB's Minor League Reorganization. The Bisons stated that in spite of the inconvenience of moving out temporarily to make way for the parent club, they would benefit from the numerous improvements made to the park to accommodate the parent Blue Jays, including better lighting, and renovated dugouts and clubhouses.

In early July, as vaccination numbers soared in Canada and provinces were easing restrictions in gatherings, the Jays sought permission to return home July 30th. A positive decision was announced on July 16th. The Bisons, speaking previously about what would happen if the Jays were to return home during the season, said that it would take them about two weeks to transfer back to Sahlen Field from Trenton. After the Toronto announcement, the Bisons said they would return to Sahlen for their next homestand starting August 10th. "Re-opening Day" not only came off as scheduled, the Bisons bombed the Rochester Red Wings, 11-0.

Weather is often a problem for an open-air stadium directly east of Lake Erie, especially early in the season. The year 2023 might seem the best example - the first three games were postponed - but the problem wasn't the usual suspect: winter. Two separate windstorms set things up by damaging the infield tarp, and Mother Nature took full advantage by dumping nearly five inches of rain onto the less-protected field between the eve of the Tuesday opener and Wednesday evening.

Opened in 1988, the ballpark has worn more different names than any other in Minor League Baseball. Fifth name sponsor Sahlen Packing added 2019-2028 naming rights to its 2012 hot-dog contract at the start of the 2019 season. It was Coca-Cola Field from 2008 to 2018, following Dunn Tire Field, North AmeriCare Park, and originally Pilot Field. A brief stint without a naming rights contract, after Pilot defaulted, went as Downtown Ballpark. The facility hosted 21,050 in June 1990 and again in August 2002, but renovations later reduced its seating to 16,600. The Bisons say it can hold a "few hundred" more - still more than any other park in the minors. So far, in its current configuration, its record one-game crowd is 16,409.

The original design allowed for expandability, in case Buffalo ever got a Major League team. Buffalo is the only city identified to be part of the would-be Continental League that did not go on to land a Major League franchise. The issue appears to be baseball in Buffalo weather without a domed stadium.

Architect HOK Sport (now Populous) soon went iconic with Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Generally regarded as the debut of HOK's "downtown retro" design, Pilot Field was actually HOK's third professional baseball park - and the earlier efforts included at least some elements of the concept.

Pilot's 1988 opening came five years after Cardinals Stadium in Louisville, KY became the first to hosted 1 million fans in a single Minor League season. The new playpen topped that benchmark in it first six straight seasons. The 1,240,951 total in 1991 remains the minor-league single-season record, and the Bisons and Louisville Redbirds remain the only farm teams to top the million mark.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jon Campbell: "How a Buffalo hot dog company lucked into naming rights on big-league stadium", USA Today, August 11, 2020. [1]
  • Keegan Matheson: "Blue Jays to play home games in Buffalo",, July 24, 2020. [2]
  • Keegan Matheson: "Sahlen Field transformed for home opener",, August 10, 2020. [3]

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