"The House That Jimmy Built"
A view of the field from upper-level seating
|Former names||Pilot Field (1988-1995)|
Downtown Ballpark (1995)
North AmeriCare Park (1995-1999)
Dunn Tire Park (1999-2008)
Coca-Cola Field (2009-2018)
|Address||1 James D. Griffin Plaza|
|Location||Buffalo, New York|
|Owner||City of Buffalo|
|Operator||Bison Baseball, Inc.|
|Record attendance||Baseball: 21,050|
(June 3, 1990 / August 30, 2002)
(June 12, 2015)
|Field size||Left field: 325 ft (99 m)|
Left-center field: 371 ft (113 m)
Center field: 404 ft (123 m)
Right-center field: 367 ft (112 m)
Right field: 325 ft (99 m)
|Broke ground||July 10, 1986|
|Opened||April 14, 1988|
|Construction cost||US$42.4 million|
($91.7 million in 2019 dollars)
|Services engineer||Wendel Engineers PC|
|General contractor||Cowper Construction Management|
|Buffalo Bisons (AA/IL) 1988-present|
Buffalo Nighthawks (LPBL) 1998
Empire State Yankees (IL) 2012
Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) 2020
Sahlen Field is a baseball park in Buffalo, New York. Originally known as Pilot Field, the venue has since been named Downtown Ballpark, North AmeriCare Park, Dunn Tire Park, and Coca-Cola Field. The home of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons of the International League (IL), it opened on April 14, 1988 and can seat up to 16,600 people, making it the highest-capacity Triple-A ballpark in the United States. It replaced the Bisons' former home, War Memorial Stadium, where the team played from 1979 to 1987.
The stadium was the first retro-classic ballpark built in the world, and was designed with plans for Major League Baseball (MLB) expansion. Buffalo had not had an MLB team since the Buffalo Blues played for the Federal League in 1915. However, Bisons owner Robert E. Rich Jr. was unsuccessful in his efforts to bring an MLB franchise to the stadium between 1988 and 1994.
Additionally, the facility has been the site of numerous concerts and professional wrestling events.
Buffalo began hosting professional baseball in 1877, when the Buffalo Bisons of the League Alliance began play at Riverside Park. The Buffalo Bisons (IA) joined the International Association for Professional Base Ball Players in 1878, winning the league championship in their first season.
The Buffalo Bisons (NL) then defected to the National League of Major League Baseball in 1879. The Bisons moved to Olympic Park before the 1884 season, and left Major League Baseball following the 1885 season to join the Eastern League as the Buffalo Bisons. The Eastern League was absorbed into the International League in 1887, but the league folded after a single season.
While the minor league Bisons continued play in the International Association for Professional Base Ball Players, an unaffiliated team also calling itself the Buffalo Bisons (PL) competed in the Players' League of Major League Baseball in 1890. The minor league Bisons would rejoin the Eastern League in 1891, and later join the Western League in 1899. The Western League renamed itself the American League for the 1900 season, but the Bisons were replaced by the Boston Americans when the league joined Major League Baseball prior to the 1901 season. The Bisons returned to the Eastern League, which was absorbed into the International League in 1912.
As the minor league Bisons continued play in the International League, an unaffiliated team called the Buffalo Blues competed in the Federal League of Major League Baseball in 1914 and 1915 at Federal League Park.Bison Stadium was built for the Buffalo Bisons in 1924 at a cost of $265,000, and was later renamed Offermann Stadium following the death of team owner Frank J. Offermann in 1935.
The Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League played at Offermann Stadium from 1951 to 1955. Hank Aaron was discovered while playing for the Clowns in 1952, and his contract was bought out by the Boston Braves for $10,000.Toni Stone signed with the Clowns in 1953 for $12,000, becoming the first woman to sign a professional baseball contract.
Buffalo was awarded an expansion franchise by the Continental League of Major League Baseball in January 1960, and made plans to play at War Memorial Stadium beginning with the 1961 season. However, the league folded before the season began. The Bisons remained in the International League and began play at War Memorial Stadium in 1961, as Offermann Stadium had already been slated for demolition.
In April 1968, Robert O. Swados and his investment group, which included George Steinbrenner, presented their bid for a Buffalo expansion franchise to the National League Expansion Committee. This bid included plans for a $50 million domed stadium that was designed by the architects of the Astrodome and had a capacity of 45,000. Buffalo was one of five finalists for the 1969 Major League Baseball expansion, but franchises were awarded to the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres in May 1968.
Erie County went on to modify the planned domed stadium to accommodate the Buffalo Bills, approving its construction as a 60,000-seat football venue in Lancaster that could also host baseball. However, bids for the stadium in 1970 came in over budget, and the project stalled. Bills owner Ralph Wilson threatened to move the Bills if action was not taken to replace the aging War Memorial Stadium, forcing Erie County to abandon the domed stadium in favor of building open-air Rich Stadium in Orchard Park. The Buffalo Bisons moved mid-season in 1970 and became the Winnipeg Whips, leaving Buffalo without professional baseball.
Mayor James D. Griffin and an investment group purchased the Jersey City A's of the Double-A class Eastern League for $55,000 in 1978, and the team began play as the Buffalo Bisons at War Memorial Stadium in 1979. This new franchise assumed the history of prior Buffalo Bisons teams that had played in the city from 1877 to 1970. Robert E. Rich Jr. purchased the Bisons for $100,000 in 1983, and upgraded the team to the Triple-A class American Association in 1985 after buying out the Wichita Aeros for $1 million.
HOK Sport (now known as Populous) designed the downtown venue as the first retro-classic ballpark in the world. The City of Buffalo originally hired HOK Sport to design a $90 million domed stadium with a capacity of 40,000 for the same parcel of land, but the project was scaled back after New York State only approved $22.5 million in funding instead of the $40 million requested. The open-air venue was designed to fit within the neighborhood's existing architecture of the Ellicott Square Building, Main Seneca Building, Marine Midland Center and Old Post Office. Located in close proximity to Buffalo Memorial Auditorium and along the newly built Buffalo Metro Rail, the venue would be an attractive and accessible destination for suburban residents. The same design firm would later bring this concept to Major League Baseball with Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The venue's exterior would be constructed from precast concrete, featuring arched window openings at the mezzanine level, rusticated joints, and inset marble panels. The baseball field itself would feature a Kentucky Bluegrass playing surface and have dimensions that were designed to mirror those of pitcher-friendly Royals Stadium.
The $42.4 million venue was mainly paid for with public funding. $22.5 million came from New York State, $12.9 million came from the City of Buffalo, $4.2 million came from Erie County, and $2.8 million came from the Buffalo Bisons. The New York State funding was contingent on the Bisons signing a 20-year lease with the City of Buffalo for use of the venue, which they did just prior to groundbreaking. The City of Buffalo and Erie County paid an additional $14 million for the construction of parking garages to service the venue and other downtown businesses.
St. John's Episcopal Church originally occupied what is now the venue's land at the corner of Swan Street and Washington Street, and Randall's Boarding House originally occupied the adjacent lot on Swan Street. Mark Twain famously was a resident of the boarding house while editor of the Buffalo Express. Constructed between 1846 and 1848 on land donated by Joseph Ellicott, the church remained in use until 1893 and was demolished in 1906. The land then became the site of Ellsworth Statler's first hotel, Hotel Statler, in 1907. It was later renamed Hotel Buffalo after Statler built a new hotel on Niagara Square in 1923 and sold his former location. Hotel Buffalo was demolished in 1968, and the land became a parking lot. The City of Buffalo would later acquire the land through eminent domain.
The venue broke ground in July 1986 and was originally built with a seating capacity of 19,500, which at the time made it the third-largest stadium in Minor League Baseball. The overall design allows for future expansion to accommodate a Major League Baseball team, as capacity could be increased to 41,530 by double-decking the existing mezzanine.
The venue opened in April 1988 and was lauded by mainstream media outlets, including feature stories by Newsday, New York Daily News, San Francisco Examiner, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times Magazine and Vancouver Sun. Eric Brazil wrote that month in his San Francisco Examiner article that the venue, "just may be baseball's prototype for the 1990s and beyond".
In their first year at the venue after moving from War Memorial Stadium, the Buffalo Bisons broke the all-time record for Minor League Baseball attendance by drawing 1,186,651 fans during the 1988 season.
I have seen the future of baseball and it looks a lot like the past. The best new ballpark in North America looks like the best old ballpark in North America. Forget SkyDome. Pilot Field, home to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons baseball club, makes Toronto's newest toy look like a crass gimmick. It dares to offer the revolutionary concept of playing baseball on grass, open to the elements. And it does it in the prettiest playground in the game. Built last year for $42 million, (compared to SkyDome's half-billion), Pilot Field resembles a turn-of-the-century ballpark complete with soaring archways, exposed girders, palladian windows, and a copper-green metal roof above the stands topped with two cupolas. Its concrete facade has been "rusticated" to resemble the limestone walls of the heritage buildings in the downtown neighborhood that surround it. Pilot Field is so wildly popular with the citizens of Buffalo that it has helped rejuvenate Buffalo's once-decaying downtown. It was a matter of philosophy. Toronto built an edifice: Buffalo embraced an idea. Toronto elevated technology over the game: Buffalo honored the past. Buffalo ended up with the better ballpark. It may be the best ballpark built since the construction of the game's holy triumvirate - Wrigley, Fenway and Briggs (since renamed Tiger Stadium).
The inaugural Build New York Award was given to Cowper Construction Management in April 1990 by the General Building Contractors of New York State for their work on the venue.
Prior to the 1990 season, 1,400 bleacher seats and a standing-room only area within the third-base mezzanine were added at a cost of $1.34 million, increasing the stadium's capacity to 21,050.
In September 1990, Robert E. Rich Jr. attempted to buy the Montreal Expos for $100 million and move the team to Buffalo, but owner Charles Bronfman declined his offer. That same month, Rich Jr. and his investment group, which included Larry King, presented their bid for a Buffalo expansion franchise to the National League Expansion Committee. However, by February 1991 the entry fee and startup capital needed for securing a Major League Baseball expansion franchise had skyrocketed to $140 million, and Rich Jr. declined the chance to secure additional investors. Buffalo was one of six finalists for the 1993 Major League Baseball expansion, but franchises were awarded to the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins in June 1991.
In their fourth year at the stadium, the Bisons once again broke the all-time record for Minor League Baseball attendance by drawing 1,240,951 fans during the 1991 season.
In June 1992, Rich Jr. attempted to buy the San Francisco Giants and move the team to Buffalo, but owner Bob Lurie declined his offer. The proposed name for the team would have been the New York Giants of Buffalo, as the franchise had previously played as the New York Giants from 1885 to 1957 in New York City. That same month, the City of Buffalo chose to exercise an escape clause and buy back $24.2 million in federal bonds they had earmarked for expanding the venue to accommodate Major League Baseball.
In July 1994, Rich Jr. notified the Major League Baseball Expansion Committee that he was interested in pursuing a Buffalo expansion franchise. However, he would retract this notification the following month after the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike commenced. Buffalo was withdrawn as a candidate for the 1998 Major League Baseball expansion, and franchises were awarded to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in March 1995.
For the 1996 season, a new outfield fence was erected at the venue at a cost of $50,000 so the baseball field mirrored the dimensions of Jacobs Field. Left-center field was reduced from 384 feet to 371 feet, center field was reduced from 410 feet to 404 feet, right-center field was reduced from 384 feet to 367 feet, and the height of the center field fence was reduced from 15 feet to 8 feet. This change allowed the Cleveland Indians, Buffalo's major league affiliate, to better evaluate their prospects, while also making the park more hitter-friendly.
In wake of the American Association disbanding following the 1997 season, the Bisons joined the International League in 1998. The addition of regional rivalries allowed for the creation of the Thruway Cup, an annual competition between the Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Red Wings and Syracuse SkyChiefs.
The venue was home to the Buffalo Nighthawks of the Ladies Professional Baseball League before the league shut down mid-season in July 1998. The Nighthawks were in first place with an 11-5 record when the league folded, and were declared Eastern Division champions.
The 20-year lease between the Bisons and City of Buffalo for use of the venue was renegotiated in January 2003, with the addition of funding from Erie County.
Prior to the 2004 season, $5 million in renovations to the venue were completed, including removal of the stadium's right field bleachers and construction of a four-tier Party Deck in its place. The removal of the bleachers decreased the stadium capacity to 18,025.
The 20-year lease between the Bisons and City of Buffalo for use of the venue expired following the 2008 season, and the city began offering year-to-year leases to the team thereafter.
For the 2011 season, the park's original scoreboard in center field was removed and replaced by an 80-foot wide by 33-foot tall Daktronics high-definition LED video screen at a cost $2.5 million. That same year, a new $970,000 field drainage system and a new $750,000 field lighting system were added to the venue.
The venue was home to the Empire State Yankees of the International League in 2012. The team was forced to play at alternate sites that season as PNC Field was undergoing renovations. The Yankees finished the season with a 84-60 record, and advanced to the International League playoffs.
For the 2014 season, $500,000 was spent in improvements to the venue, including a new sound system and the installation of new LED message boards down both baselines.
A campaign to replace the park's original red seating with wider green seating began in 2014. The stadium's capacity was reduced from 18,025 to 17,600 when 3,700 seats were replaced prior to the 2015 season at a cost of $758,000. 2,900 seats were replaced prior to the 2017 season, reducing capacity of the stadium from 17,600 to 16,907. 2,000 seats were replaced prior to the 2019 season, further reducing capacity to 16,600.
Following the 2019 season, protective crowd netting was installed throughout the venue at a cost of $475,000 to meet Major League Baseball safety standards.
In June 2020, the Bisons cancelled their season at the venue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Toronto Blue Jays, the Bisons' major league affiliate, announced the following month that they would play their 2020 season at the venue after the government of Canada denied them permission to play at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays finished the season with a 32-28 record, and advanced to the American League Wild Card Series.
Major League Baseball and the Blue Jays organization jointly funded renovations of the venue prior to the 2020 season at a cost of $5 million. Permanent upgrades included installation of LED field lighting, installation of instant replay technology, installation of Hawk-Eye for Statcast tracking, a resurfaced infield, and relocation of the home dugout to the third-base side of the stadium. Temporary facilities designed for the postponed MLB at Field of Dreams game were also utilized.
Pilot Air Freight of Philadelphia purchased the 20-year naming rights to the venue in 1986. The stadium would be named Pilot Field in exchange for the company paying the City of Buffalo $51,000 on an annual basis. Their name was stripped from the venue by the City of Buffalo in March 1995 after defaulting on payments. The stadium was then known as Downtown Ballpark until July 1995, when local HMO North AmeriCare purchased the naming rights and the stadium became North AmeriCare Park. North AmeriCare agreed to pay the City of Buffalo $3.3 million over the course of 13 years.
The Dunn Tire chain of tire outlets assumed North AmeriCare's remaining contract with the City of Buffalo in May 1999, and the venue became Dunn Tire Park.Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Buffalo purchased the 10-year naming rights to the stadium in December 2008, and it was renamed Coca-Cola Field for the 2009 season. Local meat packing company Sahlen's purchased the 10-year naming rights to the stadium in October 2018, and it was renamed Sahlen Field for the 2019 season.
Opening Day of the venue's inaugural season took place on April 14, 1988, and saw the Buffalo Bisons defeat the Denver Zephyrs 1-0.Pam Postema, the first female umpire in the history of professional baseball, officiated the game. Prior to the event, The Oak Ridge Boys performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" and both Mayor James D. Griffin and Governor Mario Cuomo threw ceremonial first pitches.
The venue was host to the inaugural Triple-A All-Star Game in July 1988. The event aired live on ESPN and saw a team of American League-affiliated players defeat a team of National League-affiliated players 2-1. Celebrity appearances were made by Morganna, the Kissing Bandit and Spuds MacKenzie.
The eighth-annual National Old-Timers Baseball Classic was held at the venue in June 1989. The event aired on ESPN and saw the National League defeat the American League 8-7.
The June 3, 1990, game between the Buffalo Bisons and Oklahoma City 89ers with a post-game concert by The Beach Boys set the all-time single-game attendance record for baseball at the venue with 21,050 fans. The Bisons lost the game 7-6.
The ninth-annual National Old-Timers Baseball Classic was held at the venue in June 1990. The event aired on ESPN and saw the National League defeat the American League 3-0.
An exhibition between the Bisons and their Major League Baseball affiliate Pittsburgh Pirates took place at the venue in May 1991, with the Bisons winning the game 4-2.Barry Bonds became the first player in the venue's history to hit a home run to center field during a pregame home run derby. A second exhibition between the Bisons and Pirates took place in May 1993, with the Bisons winning the game 3-2.
A viral video of Rich Aude pimping his walk-off home run to end a May 1994 game at the venue between the Bisons and Louisville Redbirds was covered by media outlets including Deadspin and MLB.com.
A May 1995 game between the Buffalo Bisons and Iowa Cubs was the first-ever Triple-A game broadcast live by ESPN2. The Bisons lost this morning game, their annual School Day promotion, by a score of 5-1.
An exhibition between the Bisons and their major league affiliate Cleveland Indians took place at the venue in June 1996, with the game ending in a 3-3 tie.
An August 30, 2002, game between Buffalo and the Rochester Red Wings matched the all-time single-game attendance record for baseball at the venue with 21,050 fans. The Bisons won the game 5-0.
A June 2010 game between the Bisons and Syracuse Chiefs was broadcast live on Versus. Promoted as the final Triple-A appearance of Stephen Strasburg, he led the Chiefs to a 7-1 victory over the Bisons.
The venue's first Major League Baseball game took place on August 11, 2020, in which the Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Miami Marlins 5-4 in extra innings. The event aired live on Sportsnet and was simulcast on MLB Network.
The Buffalo Bisons have presented a yearly post-game Summer Concert Series at the venue since 1988. The Summer Concert Series has included headlining performances by Aretha Franklin (1991),Bill Cosby (1997),Bo Diddley (1990),Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (1995-2019),Chicago (1990, 1994),Chubby Checker (1992),Eddie Rabbitt (1988),Foreigner (1994),Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (1990), Gloria Estefan (1988),Huey Lewis and the News (1991),Kansas (1996-1997),KC and the Sunshine Band (1995),Loverboy (1997),Michael McDonald (1992),Reba McEntire (1993),Styx (1996),The Beach Boys (1988-1995, 2000-2001),The Doobie Brothers (1994),The Monkees (2001),The Temptations (1989),The Turtles (1992),Tommy James (1992),Tony Bennett (1999),Village People (1995) and Willie Nelson (1989).
The third-annual WEDG Edgefest music festival took place at the venue in June 1997 and included performances by Buck-O-Nine, David Usher, Goo Goo Dolls, Moist, Saturn Battery, Sloan, Tugboat Annie and Weezer.
WKSE presented their annual Kiss the Summer Hello music festival at the venue from 2001 to 2002, and again from 2009 to 2013. Kiss the Summer Hello included headlining performances by 98 Degrees (2001),Ashanti (2002),Carly Rae Jepsen (2012),Emblem3 (2013),New Boyz (2010),The Veronicas (2009) and Travie McCoy (2011).
WYRK has presented their annual Taste of Country music festival at the venue since 2001. The 2015 event headlined by Dierks Bentley set the all-time attendance record for concerts at the venue with 27,000 fans.
WEDG staged their tenth-annual Edgefest music festival at the venue in May 2003, and it included performances by Cold, Finch, Hed PE, Klear, Powerman 5000, Seether, Smile Empty Soul, Staind, The Juliana Theory and Trapt.
The second-annual Buffalo Niagara Guitar Festival took place at the venue in June 2003 and included performances by California Guitar Trio, Chris McHardy, Doug Yeaomans, Hubert Sumlin, Jim Weider, Johnny Hiland, Larry Coryell, Murali Coryell, Savoy Brown, Sid McGinnis and The Yardbirds.
Ballpark Brawl was a series of post-game professional wrestling events produced by the Buffalo Bisons and promoted by Christopher Hill, their Director of Sales and Marketing between 2003 and 2007. The promotion's Natural Heavyweight Championship paid homage to The Natural, which was filmed in Buffalo at War Memorial Stadium.
TNA Wrestling held their unrelated BaseBrawl event at the venue in June 2011, headlined by Kurt Angle defeating Scott Steiner, and an appearance by Hulk Hogan. TNA held another BaseBrawl event at the venue in June 2012, headlined by Bobby Roode defeating Jeff Hardy to retain the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
Artist Jenny Holzer commandeered the venue's center field scoreboard in July 1991 to display her famed Truisms. She was in town to promote the opening of her Venice installation at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Jim Kelly held his inaugural StarGaze charity event at the venue in June 1992. The event drew a crowd of 14,500 and raised $150,000 for the Kelly for Kids Foundation. The charity event returned in June 1993, drawing a crowd of 10,000 and raising $100,000 for the Kelly for Kids Foundation.
A low-budget film called Angel Blues was shot at the venue in August 1993. It was directed by William Zabka and starred Michael Paloma, Loryn Locklin, Meredith Salenger, Richard Moll, David Johansen and Michael Horse.
Micah Hyde held his inaugural Charity Softball Game at the venue in June 2019. The event featured current and former members of the Buffalo Bills, and raised $40,000 for the Imagine for Youth Foundation.
Consumer's Pub at the Park is a full service bar and restaurant located within the park's first-base mezzanine that features both indoor seating and outdoor patio seating with views of the field. It is open to the public year-round via an entrance on Washington Street, and exclusively to ticketholders on game days. The restaurant was formerly known as Pettibone's Grille from 1988 to 2016.
Concessions around the venue's concourse feature selections from local eateries, including beef on weck from Charlie the Butcher, craft beer from Consumer's Beverage, hot dogs from Sahlen's, ice cream from Upstate Farms, pierogis from Ru's Pierogi, pizza from La Nova Pizzeria, and pizza logs from Original Pizza Logs.
Union Pub is a full service bar and restaurant located directly across from the venue on Swan Street that has been in business since 1864.
The Buffalo Bisons have customarily marked the landing spot of every home run their players have hit into the right field parking lot since the venue's inaugural season in 1988. This feat is rarely accomplished because the balls have had to clear either the right field bleachers or the Party Deck that replaced them in order to reach the parking lot. Russell Branyan holds the record for most parking lot home runs, with three.
The original flag pole from center field at War Memorial Stadium was preserved and installed at the venue in July 1990. It can be found behind the Party Deck in right field, on land adjacent to the parking garage.
Robert E. Rich Sr., the founder of Rich Products and father of Buffalo Bisons owner Robert E. Rich Jr., died in February 2006. His initials are inscribed above the owner's box of the venue in tribute.
Former Mayor of Buffalo James D. Griffin was posthumously honored by the Buffalo Common Council in July 2008 after they voted to change the venue's address to One James D. Griffin Plaza. A statue of Griffin was unveiled outside the venue in August 2012 to honor his contributions in constructing the ballpark and bringing professional baseball back to Buffalo.
Plaques honoring all members of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame are on permanent display within the Hall of Fame Heritage Room, which was built on the venue's third-base concourse in 2013. The Heritage Room also contains rotating exhibits of memorabilia that honor Buffalo's baseball history.
The Bisons hang a Championship Corner banner in left field that commemorates the team's many league and division championships, along with the retired numbers of Ollie Carnegie (6), Luke Easter (25), Jeff Manto (30) and Jackie Robinson (42).
Retired numbers of former Toronto Blue Jays players Roberto Alomar (12) and Roy Halladay (32), along with the retired number of Jackie Robinson (42), were inscribed above the venue's press box prior to the 2020 season. In addition, the number of former Toronto Blue Jays player Tony Fernández (1) was inscribed on the venue's outfield fence to honor his recent passing.
An Allpro parking garage is located behind right field on Exchange Street, and a Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps parking garage is located within the Seneca One Tower complex. Both parking garages are connected by a pedestrian bridge over Washington Street. Multiple surface parking lots are also in the stadium's vicinity.