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A Star Spangled Bisons Celebration

This week’s column might sound more like a concert review than a baseball column, but last week’s July 4th celebration at Dunn Tire Park deserves a reset, partly for what it contained, but also, for elements of the show that were missing this year.

The Buffalo Bisons have hooked up with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for an annual baseball/concert doubleheader for 14 years now, and this year’s event hit a milestone of sorts, as total attendance for the series of July 3rd performances crossed the 250,000 mark.

Anyone who has attended knows that this event is something special. First of all, the ballpark is always packed (although this year’s paid attendance of 17,583 was a few hundred patrons short of a sellout). For one night, Dunn Tire Park has the look and feel of a big league ballpark. The Bisons organization ramps up their game day efforts in a big way—recruiting additional staff to man the concession stands and portable carts, in addition to more ushers, entertainers and other support personnel to handle the crush of fans.

Last week’s game ended up going 13 innings and took 4:29 to play, the longest game of the Bisons season. Buffalo went into the ninth inning trailing 6-2, but got four runs in to tie the game and send it to extra innings. It was Rochester’s solo home run in the top of the 13th inning that finally gave the Red Wings a 7-6 win.

Despite the length of the game, hardly anybody left the stadium, sticking around for the show that was to come.

The events crew got the on field equipment set up in record time, and within 25 minutes conductor Paul Ferington and the BPO were ready to roll.

So why did we like this year’s show so much after railing about it (and staying away from the concert) in previous years?

Easy answer. The show this year dialed down the “propagandafest” which came across as the core theme in years past. No images of George Bush. Or Dick Cheney. Or Jerry Falwell. Or Supreme Court justices from the right wing kook side. No pictures of soldiers standing on top of tanks. No videos of smart bombs taking out some target in the deserts of Iraq, complete with a poof of smoke.

About the closest we came to images of war were clips from the first Star Wars movie—Han Solo flying high in his Millennium Falcon and taking out those imperial star troopers. Nice.

Perhaps now the folks who put this program together get it—everyone is sick of Bush’s war, the lost and shattered lives, the trillions in expense, and having all this patriotism-on-steroids nonsense jammed down our throats. Fans attending this event like a laidback, Yankee Doodle show. We’ve been saying this for years, haven’t we?

Highlights of the concert: How about a tribute to Jimmy Griffin and Tim Russert, done to the strains of “Danny Boy”? There were few dry eyes in the building. Heralding the New England Patriots “18-0” season drew more than a few boos, but when the “1” was superimposed over the “0” on the screen with video of the New York Giants celebrating their Super Bowl Victory, those boos quickly turned to cheers.

The annual medley of theme songs from each of the branches of the military is always a crowd favorite. Conductor Ferington asks those who have served to stand as their song is played. Seeing those old and frail gentlemen, many who sacrificed so much to serve our country, stand and be acknowledged, is always a goose bump moment.

Not everything went smoothly. Regulars who attend baseball games were shocked to find their favorite city-owned lots that normally charge $4-$8 jacking up the parking prices as high as $15. Restroom and concession lines were aggravatingly long, reminding everyone that this facility isn’t set up to accommodate full houses.

But on this night few were complaining. There is no better place to be on Independence Day eve, and in addition to baseball fans the fireworks show attracts thousands more who come downtown and park everywhere to watch the show.

As the clock pushed towards midnight, Ferington bid the crowd goodbye and extended the invitation for next year’s celebration—Friday, July 3, 2009.

No more Bush. No more Cheney. No more video tributes banging the drum of war,war, war. Now that will be something worth celebrating.


Those anticipating getting reinforcements for the Bisons were left sorely disappointed, as the much anticipated C.C. Sabathia trade finally went down this past Monday.

Milwaukee sends three minor leaguers to Cleveland, but the top prospect, outfielder Matt Laporta, will instead go to AA Akron. Meanwhile, Cleveland continues to sign independent players, retreads and has-beens (i.e. pitchers John Halama, Juan Rincon, and Jeff Weaver) to ride out the lame duck season here in Buffalo.

Those magical seasons when the Cleveland led Bisons were the toast of the International League, feared and respected by all comers, are just a distant memory. Can this divorce from Cleveland happen soon enough?

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