Blue Jays Finally Settle in at 'Home' With First Game in Buffalo

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Eighteen days into the 2020 season, the Blue Jays finally played a home game. They beat the Marlins 5–4 in 10 innings. (The Jays batted second in two games at Nationals Park, but MLB has said it considers Tuesday’s game to be the home opener.)

In the chaos surrounding the COVID-19 outbreaks on the Marlins and then the Cardinals, it was easy to forget that the Blue Jays’ homelessness had once been the most dramatic element of pandemic baseball, but the road to Buffalo was potholed. After Canada all but evicted them from the Rogers Centre just before Opening Day, the team had scrambled to find accommodation. The Pirates offered to share PNC Park, but Pennsylvania authorities nixed that plan. The Orioles volunteered to host them at Camden Yards, but the government of Maryland didn’t care for that, either.

So the Blue Jays switched from “House Hunters” to “Fixer Upper.” Their Triple A team, the Buffalo Bisons, plays in one of the nicer minor league parks, so Toronto set about renovating that stadium. Many of the younger Jays had played at Sahlen Field recently, and team officials kept their suggestions in mind when making adjustments, notably a 15-foot blackout of the bottom of the jumbotron to improve the batters’ eye. They also turned the home clubhouse into the coaches’ locker room, and the batting cages into the home clubhouse, to comply with social-distancing regulations. (Both spaces are also noted improvements over their past iterations.) The batting cages and weight rooms now span the concourse. Visitors’ amenities are in large event tents past the outfield. They changed to stronger LED bulbs in the light towers and added the light trucks that MLB would have used for the now-canceled Field of Dreams game in Iowa. They drove the players’ chairs from Toronto to Buffalo. In a nice touch, the organization placed photos of manager Charlie Montoyo’s sons, and his drum set, in his office.

The Jays got their first look at the new Sahlen on Monday night, when they took batting practice at 10 p.m. so they could watch the way balls moved in the lights. They raved that they barely recognized the park.

Some of the updates do not speak highly of the organization: Why was there ever a video board that obstructed the hitter’s view? Why did the home clubhouse lack carpeting? Why did the lighting fall below the safety standards that MLB sets? But regardless of how we got here, the place looks pretty good.

The players are still getting used to their new digs. On the fifth pitch of the game, Marlins shortstop Jonathan Villar skied a changeup foul. Blue Jays rightfielder Teoscar Hernández almost had it tracked down but stumbled over the bullpens, which are on the field at Sahlen.

When the players moved into their hotel on Sunday, it was the first time they could unpack for more than five days. Many of them have not seen their families in weeks. But they seem to be in good spirits. They recently ordered T-shirts that read, “This is fine everything is fine it’s fine.” That’s a joking take on the meme taken from a comic by K.C. Green in which a dog sits in a burning room looking at a cup of coffee. It’s also a good way to handle this season: It’s a mess, but we’re here, so might as well make the best of it.

Quick Hits

• MLB announced today that it would suspend Astros hitting coach Alex Cintrón 20 games and A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano six games for their parts in Sunday’s bench-clearing brawl. Over a full season, that would be 54 and 16 games, respectively. That might actually be light: The only thing the league has going for it right now is that so far, there has been no team-to-team COVID transmission. Cracking down hard on people who leave the dugout during a game is one of the best ways to make sure that remains the case.

• Charlie Blackmon .400 watch: He went 3–4 on Tuesday to bring his hit streak to 15 games and his average to .500.

• The Braves traded DH Yonder Alonso to the Padres for cash considerations. The White Sox signed Alonso before the 2019 season in hopes of luring his brother-in-law, third baseman Manny Machado, but Machado signed with San Diego. Maybe Chicago was playing the long game.