Blue Jays shuffling back to Buffalo starting June 1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Toronto Blue Jays are returning to their home away from home, Buffalo, New York, starting in June. And this time, they’ll have a limited number of fans in attendance.

Forced from Canada by that government’s coronavirus travel restrictions, the Blue Jays posted a note on their Twitter account on saying: “Buffalo, we’re BACK! We’ll see you June 1st.” The words were over a picture of Buffalo’s downtown Sahlen Field, the regular home of the Blue Jays’ Triple-A farm team.

“Buffalo’s been good to us. It’s been good to me,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said before a game in Oakland, California. “We had a good time there last year, we made it to the playoffs last year, we made it our home. It was pretty awesome the job the Blue Jays did to make that ballpark closer to a big league ballpark, they did an outstanding job and I heard this year’s even better. Our players have been there before so it’s going to be fun again. We’re going to make it into our home.”

Toronto played its first two homestands at its spring training ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, and will play its third there from May 14-24. But the Blue Jays did not want to remain in Florida for the hotter, more humid portion of the year.

The Blue Jays return to Buffalo with a homestand that includes games against Miami on June 1-2 and Houston from June 4-6. They’ll travel to Buffalo after a five-game trip that ends in Cleveland.

Montoyo appreciates the resiliency and flexibility shown by his young club through all the transitions.

“They deserve a lot of credit because a lot of teams they could be complaining, `Why are we doing this, why are we doing that?”‘ Montoyo said. “We’ll go play wherever we have to go play and we’re going to play to win. That’s what this team does. That’s what they did last year and that’s what they’re doing this year.”

Tickets in Buffalo will initially be available through the Blue Jays’ 10-game homestand concluding on July 4 before the team considers whether it can return to Toronto following the All-Star break, said Mike Buczkowski, president of Rich Baseball Operations, which owns the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. The Blue Jays come out of the break opening a six-game homestand starting with Texas on July 16.

The price of tickets have yet to be determined, and scheduled to go on sale next week.

Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.

The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo and were 17-9 at Sahlen Field. They finished 32-28 to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and were swept in losing twice at eventual AL champion Tampa Bay in the wild-card round.

The Jays are 7-4 in Dunedin this season and 7-10 on the road.

While the entire 2020 regular-season schedule was played without fans, about 4,300 spectators will initially be allowed to attend games in Buffalo, with the possibility of that number increasing. Capacity is listed at 16,600.

Fans will be required to show proof they’ve been vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 to be allowed entry. Canadians could travel to attend games, but would have to face self-quarantine rules upon returning home.

“Last year, I would have said it’s once in a lifetime. Now I guess it’s twice in a lifetime that major league baseball has played here,” Buczkowski said. “The one thing that was missing last year, for those of us who were fortunate to be at a game, were the fans. So this year, that will be different. I think it’s going to be exciting.”

Before last season, Buffalo had not hosted a major league game since serving home to the Buffeds in the Federal League in 1914-15. The Bisons began as a National League team and had a 314-333 record from 1879-85.

The Blue Jays and Bisons have made significant upgrades to Sahlen Field since last season. The bullpens have been moved off the field and behind the outfield walls and the lighting has been improved. New batting cages and a weight room have been built, and clubhouses have been renovated.

The stadium’s dimensions measure 325 feet down the lines and 404 feet to center. The ballpark is tight in the alleys, similar to Baltimore’s Camden Yards.

Because the Blue Jays are turning to Buffalo, the Bisons have moved home games to Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, New Jersey, which became open when the New York Yankees moved their Double-A team this season to TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Buczkowski said the upgrades will have a lasting impact on the Bisons beyond this season because Buffalo will surpass new minor-league standards put in place for facilities in order to continue operating a franchise.

“We’re going to have probably the nicest minor-league clubhouses and batting cages in the nation,” he said. “So that’s going to ensure that we are going to have a great ballpark for the next 10 years.”

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.