BUFFALO — I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll see another Major League Baseball game in Buffalo, but I can tell you this: The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles gave me the thrill of a lifetime Sunday afternoon. The Blue Jays, our local team now, beat the Orioles 6-5 on a two-out, bases-loaded, walk-off single by Teoscar Hernandez in the bottom of the ninth inning. I’d be hard-pressed to name a cooler experience over the course of my career as a writer.
Some of the highlights included Orioles’ left fielder Ryan Mountcastle hitting the first and second home runs of his career, a hard-hit single up the middle by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. which drove in a Jays run, several diving catches in the outfield and Hernandez’s walk-off single. This was good, well-played professional baseball.
Of course, none of this would have happened had the coronavirus pandemic not reared its ugly, deadly head in the United States and Canada. The notion of anyone playing professional baseball in Buffalo back in March seemed like a bizarre notion, at the very least.
Well, the Majors have been here for a month now, and I have a few observations from my time at the ballpark Sunday.
First: it’s weird without fans. Yes, they pipe in fan “noise,” but it’s a lacking imposter to the real thing. It’s strange to see foul balls fly into the stands, only to sit where they land. And the silence after the anthems were played was an aural shock to my system. The game presentation seemed more or less the same as it would if there were fans, and the general lack of noise makes all the familiar sounds of the game much louder. They even do the Blue Jays song and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch. As cool as it was to see an MLB game in Buffalo, it would have been even better with fans.
Second: Sahlen Field was ready for its MLB closeup. I’ve been to the ballpark dozens of times over the years, and was here on opening day in 1987, when it was called Pilot Field. I think they do, and have always done, a fantastic job keeping it looking great and one of the jewels of downtown Buffalo. Now, however, it looks better than ever. The field is absolutely beautiful, and superbly maintained. In fact, I’d take watching a game here over the boring and sterile environs of Rogers Centre any day. Baseball should be played outdoors.
Third: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a pleasure to watch. He went 1 for 4 Sunday and drove in a run as the Jays’ designated hitter. He’s also in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak. Beyond that, however, he’s always moving in the dugout, joking with other players and seems to bring energy to every situation. At one point during the game, he was dancing in the stands and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He clearly loves the game and being at the ballpark. He’s going to be really good for a long time, and the Blue Jays probably will be as well. It was a treat to watch him here last year with the Buffalo Bisons, and it’s even more fun to watch him with the Jays.
Home: To say spending the day at the ballpark, watching the Blue Jays and Orioles play in downtown Buffalo was surreal would be an understatement. It’s historic and probably won’t happen again, at least for the foreseeable future. I’m lucky to have been able to experience it in person, and I wish Western New York baseball fans were able to as well. Soon we’ll hopefully be able to get back to some semblance of normal in our lives and be able to attend sporting events in person again. While I look forward to that day, I won’t soon forget the afternoon I spent watching professional baseball in Buffalo.
Respond to freelance writer Michael Canfield on Twitter @mikecanfield36 or via email at email@example.com.