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The Blue Jays' 42-Year Affiliation Begins

Bisons set to begin season as Toronto AAA affiliate

September 2005. In sports parlance, that’s almost a lifetime ago. That was the last time the Buffalo Bisons saw a sniff of postseason action. Coming off a memorable Governors Cup championship year, the Herd went quietly in the first round of the 2005 playoffs, manager Marty Brown said sayonara and headed to a new assignment in Japan, and Buffalo baseball hit the skids after a relative golden age with the Cleveland Indians.

There have been memories—the team commemorated their 20th anniversary season downtown, and then their 25th, in grand style. Owner Bob Rich wrote a check to install a new HD scoreboard, one of the snazziest in all of minor league baseball.

Last season the Bisons hosted the AAA All Star Game back in Buffalo and the event was a huge success.

But on the field, it has been nothing but disappointment as year after year squads have floundered during the four-year Mets era, and Buffalo fans have watched as the New York Yankees top affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre have owned the league’s Northern Division, and as Cleveland’s AAA farmhands have flourished down in Columbus, the city to which they relocated after severing ties with Buffalo after the 2008 season.

This time it’s different.

The Toronto Blue Jays have made huge moves during the past offseason, and are widely regarded to be playoff contenders for the first time in almost two decades. After being linked up with Las Vegas at the AAA level for the past four seasons, Jays ownership was more than happy to find a new home in Buffalo. Last fall, they signed a partnership agreement for two years, but executive management expressed the hope it would be for 42 years.

And the Blue Jays have responded. First by bringing back Bisons’ fan favorite Marty Brown as the team’s manager. Brown has been the serving with the Toronto Blue Jays as the AAA manager in Las Vegas for the past two seasons, and Buffalo had their sights set on bringing him back. Last July Brown managed the Pacific Coast League squad at the All Star Game, and was a constant focus of attention and speculation, and this was before any new affiliation agreement was even signed.

“You hate to walk into a new city and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to win it all from day one,’” said Brown. “What it’s all about for the city of Buffalo and organization here, as well as Toronto, we want a chance to compete, a chance to win. We want to make sure we put our players in a position to succeed, and that’s my job.”

On the field, just about every player on the roster has seen action at the Major League level. In fact, 23 of the 25 players on the Opening Day roster have MLB experience. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place just a few days ago, when Toronto picked up relief pitcher Alex Burnett off the waiver wires and assigned him to Buffalo. Burnett has seen action as a member of the Minnesota Twins for 133 games over the past two seasons.

That’s just one of the new names that Buffalo fans will get used to in a hurry. In the outfield, Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra have shined at the AAA level, and both have seen time with the parent club, If the Bisons can keep their five-man pitching rotation together, they will be stocked with major league talent, headed up by veteran Ramon Ortiz, who won 16 games with the Angels in 2003 and has a 2002 World Series championship ring. “Ramon’s been around a while,” said Brown. “But we have some veterans who know how to pitch, they know their game, and the younger pitchers can learn a lot from them. Our pitchers are not overpowering, but they know how to pitch. They are all strikeout guys.”

Almost all eyes will be on local favorite Jim Negrych, who was a AAA All Star with Syracuse last season and had a standout spring training this year, hitting .412 with two home runs and seven RBI in his preseason appearances. “It felt good to do well at a high level,” said Negrych. He spoke with almost a childlike enthusiasm about being able to play for the team he grew up rooting for. “I want to get people excited. I’m hoping to help put fans in the stands. We all want to give the city something to be proud of like the days when the [Cleveland] Indians were here.”

Negrych is becoming the go-to guy on the squad for teammates finding their way around Buffalo. “It’s a small town, Buffalo,” Negrych said. “Everybody knows everybody, and I know the city will embrace these guys and take care of them the way they have taken care of me.”

Around the Bases

• It had to happen. With Buffalo and Toronto linking up, the hottest food item on the Coca Cola Field menu is sure to be poutine. Find this taste treat of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds at the concession stand near section 107.

• Hottest souvenir? Try on Celery’s new hat. Seriously.

• And check out the Peace Bridge this week. The bridge will be lit up in Blue Jays and Bisons colors to commemorate the new partnership.

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