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Flirting with First Place

These Buffalo Bisons are different

The music was blaring in the clubhouse. Smiles, nods, high-fives, and a sense of jubilation permeated the hallways and training rooms and lounges on the service level of Coca Cola Field. The Buffalo Bisons had just demolished the visiting Syracuse Chiefs before a sizable Fridaynightbash crowd; the team had grabbed first place in a tight, four-way race in the International League North; and the homestand had concluded with the team going 6-1. All was well with the world.

After three pretty dreadful and forgettable years in the New York Mets era here in Buffalo, just what is going on? These Buffalo Bisons are fun to watch. They are getting production and excitement from a variety of sources. Players are making their marks, and everyone seems to be enjoying being a part of the success. These Bisons are different.


Manager Wally Backman exudes a quiet confidence, almost a swagger, as he approaches the podium for his postgame briefing following each game. Win or lose, Backman doesn’t shy away from questions, analyzes what is going right, and where improvement is needed. He never calls out or chastises his players in public, and he heaps plenty of praise where compliments are due. Best of all, even in the most dire of circumstances, his outlook for the next game always refelcts boundless optimism. “We’ll get ’em tomorrow” is the mantra. Hard to argue with him.

“Oh yeah, he demands a lot, but he leads by example and the guys want to perform for him,” says starting pitcher Jeremy Hefner, who has spent most of this season in Buffalo with a brief call-up to the parent Mets.

For what it’s worth, Backman is not leaning towards any particular player or set of players when setting up his roster, and wants to give everyone an opportunity to perform. “I like to try and keep my roster, use my roster, so just when you have something like this happen you have the opportunity to play players who have not been stagnant for ten days. You’re giving them more than a fair chance when they go out there,” he says.

“We want to play better at home. That’s what good baseball teams do. We’re a pretty good road team, too. We’re not intimidated in any ballpark we go into, and these guys are determined. They go into other stadiums and they take it personal. They have the right attitude, and right now they are doing a great job.”

The team is in the middle of its longest road trip of the season, and this gives the guys a chance for some team bonding and chemistry. “They’ve already got good chemistry. I know what they’ve got,” said Backman. “We’re still trying to develop these guys and get them to the next level. A long road trip like this is always a test.”

Matt Tuiasosopo is really getting into a rhythm, mostly at third base. He dazzled the home crowd last week when he hit two home runs, one of those catching the top of the screen along Oak Street. Tuisasosopo is hoping that his play is being noticed up top. “Every day I come to the field and I hope to be in the lineup,” he says. “I hope I’m staying positive, loose, mentally staying sharp, but hopefully when my name is there I can help my team win.” Tuiasosopo grew up in with a strong athletic pedigree, as his dad, Manu Tuiasosopo, was a long-time star for the NFL Seattle Seahawks in the 1980s.

Almost all the players vouch for the fast-growing fellowship and chemistry—this from a group of guys who barely knew each other two months ago. “I love it,” says Tuiasosopo. “I love being with the Mets. I love being here in Buffalo. Probably one of my favorite teams I’ve ever played on. We’ve got a great group of guys and to be around them every day. It’s been fun…there are some pitchers I have faced, and now it’s nice being behind them on defense. But it’s first-class from top to bottom. All winning teams that I’ve been on involved guys who cared about each other even off the field, and we’ve got that here in Buffalo.”

Hefner seconded that thought. “The first couple weeks we didn’t play a whole lot of games in spring training together. So it took a little bit for us to come together and play as a team. Maybe we were pressing a little bit. We started off a bit slowly.” Hefner is really loving Buffalo. “It’s a great town. My wife and son just went home for some graduations and weddings. But now that it’s getting warmer we’ll get out a little more and enjoy the city and the river and things that Oklahoma doesn’t have.”

Backman refuses to be nonplussed by setbacks and looks ahead to a great season. Even after the team dropped a doubleheader in Rochester on Saturday, to drop a hair under first place, he confidently responded, “We’ll be back.”

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