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High Energy at the Ballpark as Bisons Luck Runs Out

No playoffs for eighth year running

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos had to be soaking in every minute of last Thursday’s Bisons home finale and loving all of it.

Just a year earlier his top farm team was relegated to the outpost of Las Vegas, not exactly the center of the baseball universe, and a long trip back and forth for his callups.

Now Coca Cola Field and the Buffalo Bisons lay before his feet. His farm team was playing the Rochester Red Wings and clinging to a faint playoff hope. Seventeen thousand fans were jammed into the ballpark, and it wasn’t your casual, cotton-candy-eating, fireworks-watching, kids-run-the-bases crowd. The fans were hanging on every pitch. They weren’t disappointed.

In the bottom of the eighth, Buffalo scored three times and took a 3-2 lead, thanks to Mauro Gomez’s ground rule double, which brought in the winning run. In the top of the ninth, Jeremy Jeffress was nearly perfect, throwing just 11 pitches and striking out the side. Fans were on their feet, another one of those electric moments at Coca Cola Field that Buffalo fans have seen plenty of all year long since the Blue Jays came to town.

“It’s gone exceptionally well. It’s been the perfect fit for us,” said Anthopoulos in a hastily called press conference during the game in the Bisons’ media lounge. Just minutes earlier, Anthopoulos and Bisons general manager Mike Buczkowski staged a between-innings signing ceremony right by the first base dugout on the field, extending both teams’ affiliation agreement for another two years. The Buffalo Bisons and Toronto Blue Jays are now partnered through 2016. Judging from the crowd reaction to this surprise announcement, nobody in the house was complaining.

“I didn’t know to what level we’d expect these kinds of crowds. I understand the Bills are at home tonight, and yet to see this attendance tonight…I think it’s better than we could have expected.”

Anthopoulos has nothing on his punch list as far as future ballpark renovations or player amenities at Coca Cola Field. During the Cleveland era, Indians management demanded expanded clubhouse and training areas in the ground floor of the ballpark, and also asked that the outfield fences be moved in to more closely mimic the dimensions of Cleveland’s stadium. “We’re not use to having it this nice,” said Anthopoulos. “You keep reminding yourself this is a minor league clubhouse, but it has so many big league components to it. I think these guys [Bisons management] are so far on top of it and ahead of it.”

The Bisons finished the season at 74-70, one of their best records in recent memory. They fell three wins short of attaining a playoff berth. The Rochester Red Wings will be going to this year’s Governors Cup playoffs as the wild card entrant, only their second playoff appearance since 1997.

Will Marty Brown be back next season as Bisons manager? His annual contract runs out in December, and certainly the Bisons front office will want him back. “We like to have continuity on the minor league side. We will sit down and talk. We haven’t done a review yet but that will come,” said Anthopoulos. “Heck yeah, I’d like to come back,” Brown said after the game. “I know I’ll be working somewhere in baseball next year, may as well be here.”

Despite the lack of pennant success from a team that started out 17-7 in April and actually scored 27 runs in a single game earlier this year, everyone left the ballpark last Thursday with a spring in their step. “All this has exceeded our expectations. From a business partnership, the Jays have worked closely with us,” said Buczkowski. “Based on this first season and the way it all has been received by our fans, this affiliation extension was an easy decision.”

Year two of what Blue Jays president Paul Beeston termed last fall as a “42-year agreement” begins on April 3, 2014 at Coca Cola Field against the Rochester Red Wings. There is optimism in air everywhere in Bisons country that the best is yet to come.

Around the Bases...

• Fans hoping to see Celery break out with that elusive first win ever were left disappointed. Celery came close on that dedicated bobblehead night, and almost won last Thursday. But Bleu Cheese put together an impressive final homestand winning streak to capture this year’s Mascot Race title. We will see if next year brings luck and good fortune to everyone’s favorite mascot.

• With the Bisons win last Thursday, the team clinched the Thruway Cup, the standings competition amongst Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Bisons PR director Brad Bisbing had the cup on display in the pressbox during the entire final homestand.

• And a no-hitter alert: This one happened this past Sunday at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, where the visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers no-hit the home town Batavia Muckdogs in NY/Penn League action, winning 6-0 and completing the no-hitter with a combination of three pitchers.

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