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The Red Hot Bisons

The Red Hot Bisons
Team atop the league standings

Don’t look now. But the Buffalo Bisons are off to a fast start to this 2015 season. Coming home from a superb road trip this past Sunday, the team stood at a league leading 12-5 record as they began play at home this past Monday.

It was a crazy homestand to start the month, as the Bisons endured all sorts of game disruptions and cancellations. One happened because of wind. Then a torrential downpour. And of all crazy things to happen, the team had to postpone the second game of a doubleheader on April 14 due to a loss of power to the stadium. Indeed, all the lights, electricity, scoreboard all went dark in the middle of the game with the Pawtucket Red Sox. The teams continued playing, with a minimum of juice in the building thanks to emergency generators, which kept stairwells and some lighting in the concourses, and interestingly enough, also kept the public announcer system going as well as both home and visiting radio broadcasts.

“When you’ve been around baseball as long as I have, you think you’ve seen it all,” said Bisons manager Gary Allenson as he held court in the semi darkened corridor inside the team clubhouse. “But this really is a first for me, and we’ve endured all sorts of strange things in just this one week.”

Allenson seems pretty pleased with the way his squad is playing right about now. Despite all the weird injuries that are already cropping up in the big league lineup over in Toronto, the Blue Jays have left the Bisons roster largely intact throughout April, with infielder Ryan Goins the only callup.

“We’ve gotten good starting pitching, the bullpen has been outstanding, and the pitching helped us in the first eight to ten days because we weren’t hitting. But of late we’ve been swinging the bats real well. I think we’ve scored 34-35 runs with two outs and runners in scoring position. So that’s pretty good.”

One of the players worth watching is infielder Chris Colabello, who the Blue Jays picked up on waivers last December after four seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization. Colabello played a total of 114 games in the big leagues during the past two seasons. But Bisons fans remember him as a star with the Rochester Red Wings in 2013, where he hit .358 with 12 home runs in only 46 games before his promotion to the Bigs.

Colabello was named the International League “Batter-of-the-Week” for last week, where he hit 14 for 30 and drove in 10 runs. As of this Monday, Colabello was in 4th place in the league with a .367 average and 5 home runs. “He’s finding his pitches to hit, sometimes he over swings the ball but that’s alright because the next one he’s connecting,” said Allenson.

“My experience in Rochester was great, and I’ll always appreciate the opportunity the Twins gave me. But this has also been a great transition for me, the big league coaching staff, the staff here and the guys who play with me. It’s a real treat walking into this Buffalo clubhouse every day, and I’m really happy for the great start we’ve had here so far.”

At age 31, Colabello is only in his 4th year of organized baseball, having spent seven seasons in the independent Can-Am League. But he honed his craft in Italy, of all places, playing his youth baseball in his family home town of Rimini, where he grew up, though he was born in Framingham, Massachusetts. “Folks don’t normally associate Italy with baseball, focusing instead on soccer and even Italy’s pro basketball league. But baseball is a growing sport there with nine teams. I am glad to have been a part of that in my younger days.

Colabello received the ultimate honor in 2013, named to Italy’s national team in the World Baseball Classic. “Fame and fortune in the Majors is what players aspire to, but being able to play for your country and heritage? It was undoubtedly the best baseball experience of my life, standing on the field and hearing your anthem played.”

Looking at the Bisons squad, Colabello isn’t surprised that the team is playing well. “Right before the season started, we all agreed that we could really make something special happen here with this group of guys. There’s a chemistry in this clubhouse which is hard to describe but you know it’s there. A lot of talent leads to good things. Last week was a good example of pitching, hitting and defense coming together. It’s fun to watch,” said Colabello. “Let’s see what May brings.”


■ Opening Day honorary first pitch saw none other than Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan on the mound, stealing the show and earning the biggest roar of the day from the big crowd in attendance. Ryan unleashed a full delivery from the top of the mound, just missing the strike zone with a breaking ball which he called “his pitch”.

■ New at the ballpark is the pace of play clock which sets a 20 second time limit for each pitch, and a 2:25 limit for pitcher warmups between innings. So far it doesn’t seem that the players are having a problem hitting the time wall. Umpires can begin sanctions on May 1 after this first trial month.