The Swagger Close to Buffalo
by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell
Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians vying to be Cinderellas
There is newfound energy and excitement in two of baseball’s unlikeliest cities, and come early October, baseball fans here in Buffalo could find it an easy trek to take in Major League playoff baseball, which could find its way to either or both the cities of Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Pirates is one of the proudest franchises in all of baseball but has worn the doormat title for most of the past two decades, a long way from the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when guys like Bonds, Bonilla, and Van Slyke patrolled their outfield and Drabek was the ace on the hill. Here they are now, in a death grip with two other teams for first place in the NL Central Division, and the no-names in their outfield are Presley, McCutcheon, and Diaz. Lyle Overbay, who spent recent seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, is about the only recognizable name on a roster loaded with prospects and castoffs.
One of the people involved with the Pirates organization has a distinct Buffalo connection, having played for the Bisons as catcher in the early 1990s. Jeff Bannister has spent 26 years with the Pirates, climbing through their farm system as a player, then serving many years as a coach and manager. Just last week, when the Pirates took over first place in their division, Bannister, now a bench coach, proclaimed, “I want the opportunity to celebrate in the middle of that field, when we all have the chance to raise the trophy together.”
Bannister holds a couple of unique career distinctions. He was called up to the parent Pirates in 1991, and in his entire MLB playing career had but one at-bat. On July 23, 1991, against the Atlanta Braves at Three Rivers Stadium, Bannister came in to pinch hit in the eighth inning, and beat out a throw to first base for an infield single. His official MLB record shows him as one-for-one and batting 1.000. Later that year he was suspended in an emotional playoff game between the Bisons and the Denver Zephyrs at Mile High Stadium. The Bisons were down 9-0 in game four of their playoff series and had not had a base hit the entire game. Incredibly, the Bisons would not only break up the no-no but plate eight runs, only to see the game end when the tying run was gunned down at the plate, in a clearly blown call. Bannister was apoplectic and practically attacked umpire Scott Potter. The league suspended Bannister, and that was the last game he played as a Buffalo Bison.
Over in Cleveland, the Indians opened up an early lead in what is a clearly flawed AL Central Division, and manager Manny Acta has overhauled his team to the point that few Buffalo fans would recognize familiar Buffalo Bisons names. Still on the roster are former Bisons DH Travis Hafner, outfielder Grady Sizemore, and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. These three players pull down the big dollars on a roster that has been anchored by pitching success from their prospects. In fact, Fausto Carmona has been their least effective pitcher in the starting rotation.
The key to the Tribe’s success will be the success of their young starters. Josh Tomlin has been unbeatable at Progressive Field this year, and Justin Masterson has looked solid all year after a rocky 2010 in Cleveland. They will need Carmona to bear down in the second half of the season.
The trading deadline in Major League Baseball is coming up fast. Pittsburgh has never been known as a free-spending team, and certainly the Indians work within the constraints of a tight budget. Will you see either team make a break for adding a big bat, perhaps a Josh Willingham or a Ryan Ludwick? Keeping an eye on the front office machinations will speak volumes for these two team’s fortunes as they look to make a splash in the race for the 2011 World Series.
Around the Bases
• Buffalo infielder Valentino Pascucci has been named International League player of the week. He belted 10 RBI in the All Star shortened week, including two home runs in a 13-4 win this past Sunday at Rochester’s Frontier Field.
• Aud replica giveaway this Saturday. The first 4000 lucky fans through the gate at Saturday’s game at Coca Cola Field against the Pawtucket Red Sox will receive a free replica statue of Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. The team has received rave reviews for the popularity of its landmark promotional items over the past few seasons, which has included replicas of all three ballparks the Bisons have played in for most of the past century, as well as last season’s statuette of Buffalo’s Central Terminal. The Aud replica will be distributed only at the Swan Street gate and gates open at 6pm.blog comments powered by Disqus
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