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Who's Going to Fenway!

Fenway Park (photo by Aidan C. Siegel / Wikimedia Commons)

Bisons set to play this weekend at hallowed baseball venue

As if it wasn’t enough that the Buffalo Bisons are winding down a memorable 25th anniversary downtown season. Or that the team and the city hosted the AAA All Star Game last month. Now this. The team is heading down the I-90 this weekend for another road visit against the Pawtucket Red Sox.

But this won’t be just another ordinary trip. The Bisons and PawSox will square off at Fenway Park in Boston, one of baseball’s most cherished cathedrals, in what is known as the “Futures at Fenway” Series, a much anticipated event each year in Boston.

The entire idea of holding a minor league event at Fenway was the brainchild of longtime Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Fenway Park is the oldest, and one of the smallest venues in major League Baseball. And being a “big market” team, Boston Red Sox tickets are very pricey and often hard to get. So Menino came up with the idea of bringing in two minor league affiliates of Boston’s each year to stage a doubleheader, each team playing a rival within their own league in games that would count in their league standings. The ballpark seats would be sold at family friendly prices, along with discount pricing for souvenirs and concessions.

The idea became a big hit. The game has consistently attracted huge crowds to Fenway Park, and this year will be the 7th such event since it debuted in August of 2006.

This year’s participants will feature Boston’s short season A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners, who will play the Hudson Valley Renegades, and that game will commence at 1 PM. Shortly after the conclusion of the first game, the Bisons and PawSox will take to the field for the second game, expected to start around 4 PM.

One might think that the players on the team, especially those with no major league experience, might experience a case of the jitters playing before all those fans and stepping on the field of such an historic and cherished venue. But three members of the Bisons are all too familiar with the Fenway hoopla, as they participated in last year’s doubleheader in Boston as part of the AA Binghamton Mets, playing the Portland Sea Dogs. Manager Wally Backman was manager of the B-Mets last year, and two Bisons players, outfielder Matt Den Dekker and starting pitcher Colin McHugh, played in that game. In fact, McHugh played 6 solid innings, getting a no decision in what turned out to be a 6-4 Binghamton win in 11 innings.

And get this: As luck would have it, McHugh is scheduled to get the start for the Herd in Saturday’s contest at Fenway Park. “Colin McHugh pitched that game (last year), allowed just two base hits, and he gets the start this year if things fall into place,” said Backman. “I think it’s a great thing for the City of Boston, it’s a great thing for the fans, who get to see their future stars, and it’s a great thing for our players as well to play in a major league park, see what it’s all about, and in front of a lot of people.”

“There will be butterflies for some,” Backman added. “Most of the guys who are in AAA have played in the big leagues, but there will be some who haven’t, and to get the opportunity to play and react in a situation before a big crowd. It’s fun to watch.”

Backman admitted that there will be no special preparation for a game like this, and is well reminiscent of the Green Monster and how it favors pull hitters who bat left, such as the Bisons’ Adam Loewen, who has played on Fenway soil during the major league portion of his career. “The only home run I ever hit in the American League was up in Boston,” said Backman. “And that was the opposite field. They’ve got a short porch. We don’t have that much time when we’re there for only one day, but there’s an art to be able to play that ball off the left field wall, and to hold guys to a single, but we’re not going to have the time to be able to do that, and that’s one of the advantage the Boston guys have when they host a game there.

There will be at least one Buffalo fan contingent at the game, a Boston based organization of Buffalo sports backers. Daniel Britton, who runs the club, will be gathering at Bleacher Bar at 82A Landsdowne Street, almost right behind the Green Monster. “We are one of two such groups in Boston, and we average about 120 fans for Bills games, and 200 for Sabres playoff games,” said Britton. “The dedication the management of Bleacher Bar has shown to our group has been incredible. They’ve added Beef on Weck to their menu; a framed Jim Kelly poster adorns the entryway.”

The festivities start up at 12 noon, and all visitors from Buffalo are welcome to join the fun. “One of the defining principles is to network and assist Western New Yorkers living in or visiting Boston,” said Britton. And just what is going on that early at Bleachers? “They’re showing a replay of a Bills/Vikings preseason game on NFL Network. Over here we love to watch the replay of last year’s Bills win over the Patriots, just to remember what it was like to be 3-0 and first in the division.”

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