Team looks to end 10 year playoff drought
By Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell
April 14th. It is somewhat fitting that the Buffalo Bisons hold their home opener on that date.
28 years ago to the day, Buffalo unveiled its new downtown ballpark, then named Pilot Field, to rave reviews not only locally, but across the nation and the baseball world. Buffalo was high on the list for Major League Baseball expansion, the new stadium set the bar for design and amenities seen nowhere in the minor leagues, and the city celebrated with a parade, and all the pomp and ceremony befitting such an event.
So here we are, almost three decades since the Bisons’ Tom Prince solo home run in that first game opened a new era for Buffalo baseball, and now Coca Cola Field is still going strong after all these years.
“We are the second oldest ballpark in the International League, and the oldest, that being in Pawtucket, has undergone significant renovations, so their place resembles little of its former self,” said Bisons Vice President and General Manager Mike Buczkowski, as the team unveiled its new merchandise and food items to the media and the public late last month.
The Bisons have introduced a couple of pricing options which could be called screaming bargains. First of all, the team will accept Canadian currency at par for all ticket purchases and at all concession stands through May 8. That includes advance ticket purchases, so fans wanting to buy tickets for premium games or events in the summer can do so and save approximately 30% by using Canadian cash. Coming on Tuesday night games is the “Consumers Craft Beer Club”. For only $99 a customer gets a ticket to all 10 games and a special cup, which can be filled with a complimentary pint of craft beer. “I always tell fans to never pay retail for games until they check out the specials first,” advised Bisons’ Public Relations Director Brad Bisbing.
The team is encouraging advance purchases by offering a $2 discount off of any ticket prior to game day.
The Buffalo Bisons just this week extended their affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays through 2018, a partnership now in its fourth season. The two teams have had huge success in building marketing and broadcast partnerships across the border. Buczkowski had earlier predicted that this new agreement would be done sooner than later, and it has been.
The Blue Jays have had some front office upheaval since the end of last season, Gone is former General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, who is widely hailed as the architect who returned the Jays to the playoffs after a 22 year absence. Now running the operation is Mark Shapiro, who was at the helm with the Cleveland Indians when they were the Bisons’ parent club. Shapiro is widely known as someone who builds up minor league organizations and stresses winning at those levels. During Buffalo’s time with Cleveland, the team won three league championships and were playoff contenders or in the hunt during the entire 14 year run with the Indians. “Mark (Shapiro) is very much aware of our long playoff drought,” said Buczkowski. “We have had discussions about the situation and Mark is committed to restocking the entire minor league system in the Blue Jays organization.” And in fact, only 8 players who were with the 2015 Bisons are returning, so fans will certainly need a scorecard for all the new faces on the team.
Another name familiar to Bisons fans should be a regular around the ballpark during the season. Eric Wedge, who managed the Bisons before going on to a major league managing career with Cleveland and Seattle, has signed on with Toronto as player development advisor.
Fans returning to the ballpark will notice a few changes. Protective netting has been extended to the ends of both dugouts, in accordance with new Major League Baseball guidelines. The team is using a thinner, less obtrusive material so as to minimize the viewing impact on fans seated in those areas.
Additionally, the team has unveiled a couple new food items. Rather than following recent MLB trends and going overboard on some new combo food concoction like corn dogs on a stick dipped in Cheetos and peanut butter, the team is putting an emphasis on local dishes and Buffalo sourced ingredients. A new “Buffalocal” concession stand will be unveiled behind section 100.
The fan favorite mascot race begins its 7th year, and everyone is hoping that this will be the season that Celery makes history and finally breaks into the win column. While the team is planning bobblehead giveaways for Marcus Stroman (May 21) and Aaron Sanchez (August 10), no word on a bobblehead day for mascot Atomic Wing. Reports have leaked out that Atomic is none too happy about being dissed, following bobblehead events for all his competitors in previous seasons. How will this affect the races? Tune in to find out.
“We’re bringing back Star Wars night, we have a full promotional schedule on tap with something for everyone,” said Buczkowski. “It all starts April 14 and hopefully good weather.”
In fact, the weather could not be more promising for Opening Day and weekend. The team is home for a four game set, Thursday through Sunday.
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