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Bisons Wind Down Gloomy Season

Team to miss playoffs for sixth straight year

If you are one of those fans who enjoys fireworks, mascot races, and munching cotton candy with the kids, then all is well. If, however, you wrap yourself around the concept of winning baseball, of competitive baseball, then 2011 will be marked as a year of despair and gloominess for Buffalo baseball fans.

The Bisons’ most recent homestand has been almost a cruel hoax, in which the team has provided the sort of exciting moments that have been too few and far between in the 2011 campaign. Last Thursday there was newcomer Jordany Valdespin driving in the tying run in the eighth, then Zach Lutz with the game-ending heroics in the bottom of the ninth, hitting a game-winning double. On Friday it was pitcher Pat Misch, settling down to pitch a gem and leaving the field to a standing ovation after throwing eight and a third innings. A night later the Bisons plated four runs in the bottom of the eighth and claimed a 7-6 win. The last two games came at the expense of the league-leading Durham Bulls.

Why couldn’t this team show this sort of energy and passion all season long?

Bisons manager Tim Teufel makes no excuses for his team’s shortcomings, and instead is focusing on getting his men ready for a possible callup, and helping players who are fighting for jobs and roster spots. “You still teach, you still learn from stuff that goes on out on the field,” he says. “They are still playing for something. They are playing for jobs next year. There’s a lot to be had here. Finishing up strong is very important, and that is something that each guy knows and has to play for.”

Teufel says that there will be some new faces in these final weeks, players being given an audition for possible AAA roster spots in 2012. Already Valdespin has been promoted from AA Binghamton, and hit a double in his first AAA at-bat. “You started seeing that with [Josh] Satin coming in, and now with Valdespin, and you might see a couple more moves. It depends on what the organization wants to do, and what players they want to give a look see for AAA for next year,” Teufel says. “Any given night there’s a scout watching you play, so you’re auditioning every night. When you’re in the minor leagues you should never be comfortable being in the minor leagues.”

Teufel adds, “You go into the season with a lot of fire and a lot of hope. The season is long. It’s not a sprint. For our team it happened early. We had big changes early so, we had a couple key injuries, we had guys moved up, and sent down. That’s the nature of AAA baseball, it is a feeder system to the big leagues. We try to manage it as best we can.”

One has to wonder what will happen next season, the final year of the Bisons’ affiliation agreement with the New York Mets. Some fans are already clamoring for change, and waiting in the wings are the Toronto Blue Jays. Their AAA team was exiled to Las Vegas in the musical chairs game after the 2008 season. With familiar names such as John Farrell and Marty Brown running their show, guys who shepherded the Bisons through a golden era a few seasons ago, one can imagine that there will be quiet conversations taking place to bring the Blue Jays to Buffalo.

Interesting, too, that team owner Bob Rich has been much more visible around the ballpark this season, partly to promote his new book, and he was at the center of efforts to market his new minor league soccer team from the United Kingdom to the fans here in Buffalo. Rich can’t be too happy with his on-field product, and next year in particular the national spotlight will be on the Buffalo Bisons, with the AAA All Star Game and accompanying festivities coming to Buffalo in July.

Will the New York Mets right the ship and give the fans here in Buffalo the sort of competitive team that was a mainstay of the Cleveland era? Judging from the lack of success down the Mets farm chain, there doesn’t seem to be much hope in that direction. Nonetheless, by All Star time next July, we should have a clearer grasp as to whether blue and orange bunting, banners, and signs will be the colors decorating Coca Cola Field ine 2013.

Around the Bases...

• Monday, August 29, will be the date for a great giveaway. The first 4,000 fans through the gate will receive a dual Mr. Met and Buster Bison bobblehead figurine.

Fan Appreciation Night, on Thursday, September 1, will feature the famed Presidents mascots from the Washington Nationals, who will bring their stuff to the ballpark. Remember that Teddy Roosevelt is winless, a streak spanning six seasons. Will the Bisons pit our lovable Celery against Teddy in a showdown of losing racers? Should be an interesting night, always a fun way to wrap up the season. And of course a fantastic fireworks show will cap off the event.

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