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Has It Really Been 20 Years?

Ben Wagner debuts as the voice of the Bisons this week.

Bisons VP/General Manager Mike Buczkowski said it all when he remarked, “I sat in at the interns meeting the other day, looked around the room and it dawned on me that most of these young people hadn’t even been born when we had our first game here.”

But amazingly, Dunn Tire Park, our beautiful downtown jewel, the stadium that the naysayers, preservationists, obstructionists and one crazy former Buffalo councilman once tried to stop from ever being built, holds an opening day for the 20th time today.

Fans who will be getting into the baseball groove early on will notice one very big change, and it has nothing to do with improvements at the ballpark or the squad on the field. For the first time since 1995, former Bisons voice Jim Rosenhaus will not be calling the games on radio. After 12 seasons with the Bisons, Rosenhaus got the call to the Show, where he is joining the Cleveland Indians radio network as pregame host.

Coming in as the new voice of the Bisons is Ben Wagner. The 26-year-old Indiana native spent the last three seasons as radio voice of the single-A Lakewood BlueClaws of the South Atlantic League. Despite his youth, Wagner has an impressive broadcast resume, starting his radio career while still in high school and later serving as baseball announcer for Indiana State University.

Buczkowski said finding a suitable candidate for this important position in a very short time was a challenge. “We only learned in February that Rosie would be leaving us, and that meant we had to get a new guy on board in a hurry,” Buczkowski said.

The team was flooded with 117 resumes and audition tapes, most from outside the area, and Buczkowski relied on his staff for assistance in breaking down the tapes and identifying who might be suitable. “We listened to the voice first, then compared what we liked to the resume,” Buczkowski said. “At times they all became a blur to me, and I would call Brad [Bisbing] or another of my staff and solicit their input.”

So what finally made Wagner the winner in the search? Buczkowski replied, “What we liked much about Ben is that he is an excellent conversationalist. Not every call is a home run in game seven of the World Series. Over the course of a long season, I know Ben can relate to the fans listening in, sort of like having good sports talk over beers. We think we have an outstanding new voice to fill some very big shoes.”

Wagner and his wife arrived in town just a couple weeks ago, got settled in a new apartment in Williamsville and are quickly getting acclimated to Buffalo life. “We were downtown having dinner last Friday and the Sabres were playing the Leafs,” Wagner said. “I could feel the energy in the streets and the restaurant we were in as the Sabres came back to win. I said, ‘Man, oh man, is this a great sports town!’”

Following in the footsteps of Jim Rosenhaus, and prior to that Pete Weber, has to be little intimidating, right? Wagner wouldn’t hear any of that. “The calling the games part is easy,” Wagner replied. “What made those guys so good is how much time they spent in the community, taking part in events, promoting the team and making friends everywhere. That’s the part of them that I want to emulate.”

To celebrate the team’s 20th season downtown, the Bisons have once again put together an action-packed promotional schedule, with something for just about everyone. The “Fridaynightbash” featuring post-game fireworks and entertainment will return, as will the traditional Bisons/Buffalo Philharmonic Independence Day doubleheader, set for Tuesday, July 3.

A fifth “ethnic night” has been added to the lineup: the Hellenic Festival night, with pregame tent party and ethnic food, set for May 22. And the outfield picnic area will once again be the home of the “Faith Night Series,” with a pregame gospel concert in the tent on June 23.

While promotional giveaways at the gate are always a nice bonus, circle August 8 on your calendar. The first 4,000 lucky fans through the turnstiles will receive a replica of the “Old Rockpile,” War Memorial Stadium. Fans who received the Dunn Tire Park replica statue last summer were pleasantly surprised at the figurine’s stunning detail and quality.

On the field, Manager Torey Lovullo returns to the Bisons for his second season as skipper. Of course, the team has had quite a turnover since the end of last season, as is typical at the minor league level. But some familiar faces will be back in Buffalo, including last year’s MVP, outfielder Ben Francisco, and fan favorite outfielder Jason Cooper, who had a solid spring, batting .318 with one home run and five RBIs in seven games. Newcomer Shin-Soo Choo, a AAA All-Star last season, joins the Herd in the outfield. Right-handed pitcher Adam Miller, the 2006 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year at AA Akron, is the projected opening day starter.

The Bisons will be home through next Thursday. Friday night is the first Fridaynightbash with a 6:05pm start time, and all games from Saturday through Thursday will have a 1:05pm first pitch.