The 16,600-seat Sahlen Field is the largest ballpark in the Triple-A Minor League. Home to the Triple-A East franchise the Buffalo Bisons, which plays in, the baseball stadium is the first specimen of a retro ballpark and underwent renovation twice to get a place during the Major League Baseball expansion. Complete with enticing features and a startling interior, Sahlen Field holds six Triple-A records for game attendance. The ballpark is also known as Buffalo’s most sought-after venue for concerts, events, and sports events.
The history of professional baseball in Buffalo, New York, took a major turn in 1877 when the historic Buffalo Bisons became part of the League Alliance. In 1879, the Bisons moved to the National League and began playing Major League Baseball at Riverside Park. The team opted for Olympic Park I during the 1884 and 1885 seasons. However, in 1886 – 100 years before Sahlen Field was planned – the team joined the Eastern League, a minor league, which later became International League. The historic Buffalo Bisons played at Olympic Park II and Offermann Stadium until the 1960 season before relocating to the renovated multipurpose War Memorial Stadium. Unhappy with ballpark facilities, the franchise moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1970.
Buffalo was without a professional baseball team for eight years after its Triple-A franchise became the Winnipeg Whips. Efforts to lure any MLB team failed and the city missed a chance during the 1969 MLB expansion. In 1978, the then Buffalo mayor James Griffin gathered a group of investors and bought the AA franchise Jersey City A. The team relocated to Buffalo and became the Buffalo Bisons in 1979. Robert E. Rich Jr.
Robert Rich Jr. became the owner in 1983 and was instrumental in Buffalo Bisons rejoining the Triple-A league. However, the aging War Memorial Stadium was found to be inadequate for large crowds drawn into the Bisons’ games ensnared by promotions and post-game concerts. The demand for a new ballpark grew and Sahlen Field broke ground in July 1986.
When the current Sahlen Field was opened on April 14, 1988, it made media headlines. It soon began to surpass attendance records with every passing year. The opening game saw the Buffalo Bisons routing Denver Zephyrs 1-0.
Opening, Renovation, and Naming Rights
Sahlen Field originally had 19,500 seats, 38 luxury suites, and a 300-seat restaurant when it was opened in 1988. The location in the downtown is close to Buffalo Memorial Auditorium and easily accessible through the city’s metro rail. Built at a budget of $42.4 million, it was named Pilot Field in 1986 after Philadelphia-based Pilot Air Freight agreed to pay $51,000 a year. In 1995, it became North AmeriCare Park following naming rights awarded to North AmeriCare for 13 years at $3.3 million. Four years later, the name changed to Dunn Tire Park, after Dunn Tire took over the contract. Coca-Cola bought the naming rights in 1998 for a 10-year deal. After the contract ended in 2018, meat packing company Sahlen made a 10-year bid and Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field became Sahlen Field.
In 1989, a 60-feet left-field chain-link fence was added to prevent home-run balls from going into Oak Street. There was an expansion of Sahlen Field bleachers between 1990 and 1995 taking total seats to 21,050. The refurbished restaurant was opened in 1994. Expecting to land one of the MLB franchises in Buffalo, the owners of Bison carried out massive renovations in 2004, 2020, and 2021.
A new outfield fence added in 1996 resembled that of Jacobs Field. Field dimensions were reduced to make Sahlen Field more hitter-friendly. In 1999, the ballpark got a 38×19-feet Daktronics, which was changed to 80×33 feet in 2011. A four-tier Party Deck replaced the right bleachers in 2004 and a second digital billboard was erected in 2007. The number of luxury suits in Sahlen Field was brought down to 26 and a conference suite in 2010. Renovations in 2019 reduced the sitting capacity to 16,600 and added crowd safety nets.
Design and Features
Sahlen Field is the first ballpark with a retro-classic design. It served as an inspiration for the first retro-classic MLB ballpark Oriole Park at Camden Yards and subsequently influenced PNC Park of Pittsburgh and Yankee Stadium II. Its designer HOK Sport ensured that the ballpark remain in sync with the architecture of next-door Joseph Ellicott Historic District. The exterior is a beautiful integration of precast concrete and marble panels. Sahlen Field looks very elegant with arched windows on the outer wall.
The field construction makes Sahlen Field more friendly to left-handed batters. It has a restaurant named Pub at the Park at the mezzanine level. Baseball fans can enjoy indoor and alfresco dining options offering a thrilling view of the field. Concessions represent a fest of local culinary culture and beverages.
Sahlen Field also has a party deck. Near the deck, baseball fans can see several marked spots commemorating the landing of home-run balls by Buffalo Bison players. Behind the deck, there is a flag pole brought from War Memorial Stadium. The plaza has a bronze sculpture of former city mayor James D. Griffin showing him throwing the ceremonial pitch.
Sahlen Field hosts the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame and Heritage Room, which contains plaques honoring the great Bisons and the history of the home team. All trophies and honors won by the Buffalo Bisons has found mentioned at the Championship Corner. Other facilities at Sahlen Field include a dedicated suite for business meetings.
Purely Baseball Things To Know
- Sahlen Field is the ballpark with the highest number of seats in the Triple-A minor league.
- The ballpark boasts six attendance records in the minor league, including the one in 1988, its inaugural year.
- MLB franchise the Toronto Blue Jays played at the baseball stadium in 2020 and 2021.
- The Buffalo Bisons won the opening day 1-0 against the Denver Zephyrs.
- The opening day saw the first home run by Tom Prince and the first strikeout by Bob Patterson.
- Pam Postema was the umpire on the inaugural game at Sahlen Field. She was the first female umpire in US professional baseball.
- It was home to the all-women Buffalo Nighthawks, who played in short-lived the Ladies Professional Baseball League.
- In 2012, the Empire State Yankees adopted the ballpark as their home and played International League games.
- Sahlen Field hosted the first-ever Triple-A All-Star Game in 1988 and again in 2012.
- The 1988 season brought 1,186,651 fans breaking all Minor League Baseball attendance records till then.
- It was the venue for National Old-Timers Baseball Classic in 1988, 1989, and 1990.
- The Buffalo Bisons lost a game to Oklahoma City 89ers 6-7 before a record crowd of 21,050 on June 3, 1990. An equal crowd saw the Bisons winning 5-0 against the Rochester Red Wings on August 30, 2002.
- The Bisons routed the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 on May 9, 1991. Two years later, the home team repeated the feat with a 3-2 win.
- The USA national team (4) played South Korea (2) on July 9, 1992.
- In 1993, Sahlen Field hosted the World University Baseball Games won by Cuba.
- In 1997, Bartolo Colon made history with his no-hitter routing the New Orleans Zephyrs.
- The live broadcast of the May-4, 1995, game was in the Triple-A game. The Iowa Cubs defeated the Bisons 5-1.
- The Buffalo Bisons clinched a thriller tie against the Cleveland Indians on June 24, 1996.
- Sahlen Field hosted the first Big Four Baseball Classic tournament in 2004.
- The ballpark saw the first MLB game on August 11, 2020. The Toronto Blue Jays won 5-4 against the Miami Marlins.
- On July 2, 2021, Toronto’s Alek Manoah clinched his seventh strikeout while playing the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sahlen Field hosted Jim Kelly Shootout and Carnival of Stars softball charity game in 1992 and 1993. Ballpark Brawl was the name given to post-game wrestling shows organized in the stadium from 2003 to 2007. It was also the venue for TNA Wrestling,
ice skating rink, the Empire State Games, the annual Drum Corps International Tour of Champions, the National Buffalo Wing Festival, Budweiser Superfest music festival, and Major League Lacrosse exhibitions. Other events at the ballpark included NHL, golf, and circus.
Sahlen Field is famous for its post-game concerts and several annual music festivals. Performers included Aretha Franklin, the Sunshine Band, Kenny Rogers, The Temptations, Counting Crows, and Dierks Bentley.