No, I didn’t make a trip to B-Dubs. I shuffled off to Buffalo.
A TRIP TO SAHLEN FIELD
Buffalo’s Sahlen Field became my 58th venue in which I’ve seen a regular season Major League Baseball game.
I had three goals on this trip: eat some good Buffalo wings, drink some good local beer, and watch Canada’s Big League baseball team play a home game in a park that I hadn’t been to in nearly 30 years.
Like many blighted rust belt cities, Buffalo has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence through craft brewing. Breweries have popped up around the area, and (fortunately) many survived the pandemic. I had to be careful not to overserve myself before the game, so I limited myself to three local breweries and mainly did flights to get a good sampling.
First stop was Resurgence Brewing and its amazing taproom on Chicago St. This used to be a part of town one wouldn’t venture, and the facility felt like an oasis, but it was spectacular. I went through a nice series of IPAs. Their Citmo New England IPA was a real winner. (And as it turns out, I really didn’t need to go since they offer their wares at the ballpark; but even so, the taproom is worth a visit.)
Next to Old First Ward Brewing located inside a classic Irish tavern in, appropriately enough, the First Ward neighborhood. Their limited time hazy IPA also was quite good – my preference over their Streaker IPA.
Next to Belt Line Brewery. This place had several Hazy IPAs on tap, all of which were good, with the best being the First Loop, which may have also been the best beer of the day. I found their sours a little too fruity for my taste, but man that First Loop was fine.
The final stop was Pearl St Grill and Brewery just across for the ballpark. It was as busy as post-COVID law would allow, perhaps even uncomfortably so. I swear the entire announced crowd went there just before the game. I tried the Don Cherry cherry wheat, a seasonal NEIPA and a Lake Effect American Pale Ale. All were worthy of the liver damage.
So overall, I was impressed by the quality of the Queen City’s hazy IPAs. It’s been the “in style” for the past 3 years, but not everyone can make a good one. Good job, Buffalo!
OK, when in Rome, eat chicken wings.
I truly love chicken wings. I know that’s so basic, but I’ve come to grips with that as I’ve aged. So I skipped breakfast and left room for me to adequately sample 10-wing platters from three local places on the Wing Trail, avoiding two that I’ve previously frequented (Anchor Bar and Duff’s)
First stop: Doc Sullivan’s. This was a South Buffalo neighborhood bar that serves up “Smitty” wings – one where they mix 6 spices (including cinnamon) in with the hot sauce. The wings were perfectly crispy and totally delicious, especially paired with a yummy homemade blue cheese sauce that was as thick as a DQ Blizzard. Washed it down with a Big Ditch Hayburner IPA as I talked to a few colorful Sabres fans. I was off to a good start.
Next stop was Gene McCarthy’s – which is the same Irish tavern as Old First Ward Brewing. 10 classic Buffalo wings, again with perfect crispiness and the proper heat. Textbook!
Final stop: Gabriel’s Gate. It never seems fair to be the third stop on a wings tour considering I was likely 3,000 calories in by then. But I still had room and it was worth the stop. Classic Buffalo wing done as it should washed down with a Good Neighbor from Community Beer Works.
All three delivered in spades. I was likely a little partial to Doc’s just because of the unique spin with the Smitty wing, but I would never say no to any of these.
The only downside, I was now too full to eat at the ballpark.
I hadn’t been to Sahlen Field since 1992 when I went en route to seeing the 9th game ever played in Camden Yards. By all accounts, it is the Camden Yards of minor league fields, being largely responsible for the boom of minor league parks which were built in the 1990’s. I was interested to see how it aged.
Made to the yard around 5:45pm for a 7pm game. I knew touring the place wouldn’t take too long, and I didn’t want to be told that I couldn’t roam due to COVID rules, so I figured one-hour -plus would be adequate.
Outside the park
Outside of the ballpark looked like a northern downtown ballpark. It actually reminded me a little of Wrigley before the renovations with the old-timey arch ways. The Jays did a nice job with signage to make it feel like a home park and not a temporary fix.
I then ambled up to the ticket booth to grab my seat for the night, only to be told politely that all sales are online. This meant being stuck with those annoying “convenience” fees that I hate. Knowing I was going to have to buy a digital ticket, I decide to “spite buy” a great seat on Stubhub for roughly the same as what a fee’d ticket would have cost. I was going to be four rows behind the plate, likely on TV.
Inside the park
I went in around an hour before first pitch and breezed through security. Walking around the inside, it struck me that this 16,000-seat minor league gem is a 33-year-old structure, which would make it the seventh oldest park in MLB (though keep in mind that 3 of those old parks, Oakland Coliseum, Kauffman Stadium and Angel Stadium underwent massive renovations that changed those places significantly; it’s really closer to the 4th oldest!).
As such, it lacks some of the things we’ve now come to expect in a ballyard. There is no wraparound concourse, likely because of how close the road is behind the left field fence. And the playing field is not in view from the concourses, so a concession run will cost you baseball.
Wandering around, pre-game sightlines seemed good around the park. The scoreboard, while hardly impressive by modern Big League standards, was a great size for a minor league park and did the trick.
One thing I noticed was how odd it was to see no fans in the outfield at all. Of everything, this was the telltale sign of the park’s minor league status. I guess when it was first built, they had some outfield bleachers, but those are now gone.
In retrospect, they should have built the park facing the downtown skyline rather than showcasing the nearby freeway; even though you were in downtown Buffalo, the view felt suburban.
As Karma would have it, my “spite-seat” had a serious issue with a net door obstructing some of the view. The in-park staff, however, did an amazing job helping me relocate, so hats off to the Buffalo customer service team!
Concessions were stripped down a little, but still had a little local flair (like a Beef on Weck) and a little Canadiana (poutine). With 30 wings working through my digestive track, I never did consume anything solid. The beer selection had a nice mix of macro, local macro and local craft.
Finally props to playing the Canadian anthem before the game; having the in-stadium PA announcer sound just like the PA announcer at Rogers Centre; and for keeping the charmingly stupid “OK Blue Jays” 7th inning stretch. I also dug the Wings-Blue Cheese-Carrots race in the 6th inning as a nice reminder of the day’s theme as I polished off another Resurgence Citmo.
Oh yeah, the Jays won 9-3. And I didn’t need a mask.
Beer. Wings. Sports. A fine day in Buffalo.