In the COVID ravaged baseball season of 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays were displaced from their home in Canada and opted to play at the home park of their AAA minor league affiliate in Buffalo. With the start of the 2021 baseball season almost upon us and the Blue Jays looking like they won’t be able to start their season in their home at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the scramble is on to find a playing space for the top two teams in Toronto’s organization, the Blue Jays and the Buffalo Bisons. Oneida County is offering their facility at Murnane Field at a temporary home for the AAA team.
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente has sent a letter to Mark Shapiro, President and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, offering the Murnane facility as a temporary home or for “even a brief series”.
The Toronto Blue Jays are looking at a repeat of 2020 playing conditions, due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, having to play on the south side of the border. In 2020, they made Sahlen Field in Buffalo, home of their AAA affiliate. The minor leagues did not play in 2020 but are expected to be back on the field in 2021. The Blue Jays have announced that hey will start their season in Florida and are expected to play in Buffalo as well, with the hope of getting back home to Toronto as COVID subsides.
What might happen to the Bisons if the Blue Jays take their field hasn’t been made clear. That’s where Picente’s letter comes in. The County Executive notes the history between the Blue Jays and Murnane Field. In 1977, pro baseball returned to Utica in the form of the Utica Blue Jays of the New York-Penn League. They wouldn’t become the Utica Blue Sox again until Toronto severed its relationship with the franchise after the 1980 season. The first Number One draft pick in Toronto Blue Jays history, Tom Goffena, was assigned to Utica that season. Three members of the 1977 Utica Blue Jays did play in the major leagues; Jesse Barfield, who was a 17 year old rookie outfielder, Paul Hodgson, who was also 17 and would be the first Utica player to make the major league, and Greg “Boomer” Wells who would play briefly with Toronto and Minnesota before becoming a star in Japan.
Picente correctly notes in his letter to Shapiro that the field the Blue Jays left behind is much different that today’s Donovan Stadium at Murnane Field. The poor conditions at Murnane were a major factor in the Blue Jays pulling their affiliacy. In subsequent years, major renovation to the area of Burrstone Road and the Murnane Field campus included upgrades to the ballpark.