- Dave Cottenie
Sahlen Field – Buffalo Bisons
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Sahlen Field 1 James D. Griffin Plaza Buffalo, NY 14203
Year Opened: 1988 Capacity: 16,600
The Major League Herd
Every team had to react to the coronavirus pandemic circumstances in their market in their way. In Western New York, the pandemic provided some with a dream come true. In 1988, when Pilot Field was built in Buffalo, the plan was to try and lure Major League Baseball to Western New York. The stadium was designed to be expandable, but a Major League team in Buffalo was just not to be. The pandemic changed that.
Not able to play in Toronto for the 2020 season and part of the 2021 season, Sahlen Field, as it is currently known, became home for a Major League Baseball team, not necessarily as Buffalo Mayor James Griffin intended, but MLB action nonetheless. With the temporary stay at Sahlen Field, upgrades to the facility were required and completed. With MLB back to normal following the pandemic, the Buffalo Bisons have returned home as the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays in the International League.
The original Buffalo Bisons took the field for the first time in 1879. They were a part of the National League until 1885 and played at Riverside Park. In 1886, the Bisons moved to the minor leagues and had various affiliations with Major League teams over their tenure. In 1970, due to unrest in the neighborhood of the ballpark that included knife-wielding thieves robbing the team’s locker room during the second inning of a game. Bisons players voted to play elsewhere and the team eventually relocate to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
After a few more moves, the former Bisons would settle in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to become the modern RailRiders. In 1979, Mayor James Griffin and an investment group would launch the current Bisons after purchasing the Jersey City A’s. In 1983 the Bisons were purchased by grocery magnate Robert Rich Jr. and moved to the Triple-A American Association. In 1997, the American Association would be absorbed by the other Triple-A leagues and the Bisons would land in the International League.
Food & Beverage 4
Fans will be able to find a good selection of concession items at Sahlen Field. Of course, the hot dogs, both regular and gourmet, are products of Sahlen’s. Popcorn, nachos, burgers, and La Nova Pizza are also available, of course. Some options with local flair include Perry’s Ice Cream stand, fried bologna, Charlie The Butcher, a provider of Beef on Weck, and Authentic Pizza Logs.
The craft beer scene at Sahlen Field is very strong. Both the Craft Beer Corner and Buffalocal concessions have a huge selection of various local brews. Labatt’s Blue is also very popular in Western New York and can be found at many stands. Coca-Cola is the soft drink provider at Sahlen Field.
Sahlen Field is the largest stadium in MiLB, even after a reduction in capacity. The exterior of Sahlen Field is attractive enough for a concrete structure with marble inlets to give it some style. Outside the third base side, there is a large square that is perfect for meeting others before the game. The gates are large, green, iron structures that give Sahlen Field a nod for detail not found in ballparks of that era. Behind home plate, at the corner of Washington and Swan, a large bronze statue of Buffalo Mayor James D. Griffin can be found, throwing out the first pitch at Pilot Field.
Inside Sahlen Field, it is clear that this is a venue from the eighties. The concourses are not overly spacious and are on the dark side. Sahlen Field does not offer a 360-degree route around the ballpark that many other stadiums do. The seating bowl, which accommodates over 16,000 fans, combines a separated lower level, with an outdoor walkway and an upper level. The original red (now faded to orange) seats are being replaced with modern green plastic ballpark seats. The vast majority of games will attract enough fans that sitting in the original seats is not a requirement.
Behind the left field, the corner is a large banner displaying the league championships titles the Bisons have earned, which date back to 1878. There are 14 in total, which include titles won by the original Bisons, and the 1998 and 2004 titles in the International League. Division titles are also on display in Championship Corner including the most recent, in 2021. On the left field wall, the retired numbers of honored Bisons are on display including Luke Easter, Ollie Carnegie, and Jeff Manto as well as Jackie Robinson. The video board is crystal clear, state-of-the-art, and among the largest in all of Minor League Baseball.
The gameday production is what one would expect at a Minor League Baseball game. There are plenty of promotions during the game as well as music and mascots. Buster, Belle, and Chip are the Bisons’ mascots and can be found on the field and interacting with fans throughout the game. The mascot race has gained some notoriety in Buffalo, featuring Buffalo staple foods. Chicken Wing, Atomic Wing, Carrot, Blue Cheese, and Beef on Weck slug it out for each race. For several years, Celery participated in the race and recently retired with only one win to its name.
Theme nights are prevalent throughout the season and it is here that the Bisons are a cut above. The annual Star Wars Night is a sellout and far superior to any other Star Wars Night in any other professional or amateur sports production. The Independence Eve game which features the largest fireworks display of the season and a post-game concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is also among the best and routinely sells out. There are plenty of other promotional theme nights throughout the season.
Buffalo is an underrated place to visit. Sahlen Field is located in Downtown Buffalo. There are a few spots within walking distance of the ballpark that fans can hit up for a pre or post-game bite or drink. Some of the best include Washington Square, Southern Tier Brewing Co., and Pearl Street Grill. Fans can also take public transit or drive further north to the northern end of Downtown for a few more options including the famous Dinosaur BBQ.
There are plenty of other sports options within walking distance of Sahlen Field. KeyBank Center is a few blocks south of the ballpark and is home to the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL and Buffalo Bandits of the NLL. Across the street from KeyBank is HarborCenter, which is home to the Canisius Golden Griffins hockey team. The basketball team plays not too far away at Koessler Athletic Center. Other sporting options just outside of Buffalo include the Buffalo Bills, who play at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, and the Buffalo Bulls, who field NCAA football and basketball teams at UB Stadium and Alumni Arena in Amherst, respectively. Other tourist experiences fans may want to check out in the area include Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino or the Waterfront district.
For fans who wish to stay near the ballpark, the Courtyard and Buffalo Marriott are both good options within walking distance.
The Buffalo Bisons traditionally have a strong following. Being in a hybrid minor league city having both major and minor league teams across different sports, the Bisons have a solid population to draw from. The Bisons traditionally are in the top 15 in all of Minor League Baseball and the top 10 of the International League. The Bisons average over 7,500 fans per game. Fans in attendance are knowledgeable and passionate about their team.
Getting to Sahlen Field is pretty easy. Sahlen Field is located south of Swan Street at the intersection of Washington Street in Downtown Buffalo. It is located near major highways, north of I-190 and east of the Buffalo Skyway. Parking for a Bisons game is not a challenge. Surface lots around the ballpark are sufficient for most games. Pre-purchasing parking is always a good plan. The Metro Rail Seneca Station is just west of Sahlen Field. Some buses travel the area. Interested fans should check out the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority website for maps, fares, and schedules.
The main ticketing gate is at the Swan Street of the building. Getting around the ballpark is not normally a problem, however, for those large promotional nights that are sold out fans should expect long lines and difficulty getting through the concourses. Washroom facilities are more than sufficient on most nights.
Return on Investment 4
Buffalo Bisons tickets are usually $19 per game with discounts for Seniors and Youth. Tickets are $3 less when they are purchased in advance of game day. Parking can be found for a reasonable price and concession prices are decent. The value of a Bison’s game is excellent. Fans will be getting an authentic Minor League Baseball experience in a great location.
An extra mark for Buffalo icon Conehead. The beer vendor who wears a conehead hat has been a staple at Buffalo venues for decades. He can frequently be found at Sahlen Field. Fans are sure to watch for the Conehead Guarantee. An extra mark for the I-90 rivalry the Bisons enjoys with the Rochester Red Wings and Syracuse Mets.
Having enjoyed some Major League Baseball, the people of Buffalo have embraced the return of the Bisons, who have been a staple in Buffalo for a century. Baseball fans should definitely head to Western New York to take in a Bisons game at Sahlen Field and consider it one of the excellent promotional events.
Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and Instagram.