BY ANDREW KULYK
A few bright spots.
The home schedule ended on Thursday. Another packed house for Fan Appreciation Days. Tons of giveaways tossed into the stands. Player awards meted out down on the field in pregame ceremonies. Resplendent fireworks. And the team packing their bags for the final weekend road trip, while the ballpark gears up for this year’s Wingfest.
This is not how it was supposed to be.
Four years into the affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays, and the program here in Buffalo continues to endure endless disappointment. Consider this… Buffalo now has the longest playoff drought in the International League, a woeful streak going back to 2005, and across three different Major League affiliations. The golden era of winning baseball that fans here enjoyed during much of the Cleveland era is now a fading memory… banners on the outfield wall accompanying those from teams that played many decades ago.
Nonetheless, both on and off the field there were a few bright spots, a few great memories, a couple great announcements, some heroes, and others who just went about their jobs and made Buffalo Bisons baseball better because of their efforts. Here is a look back on the 2016 that was.Opening Day – Diamond pitches a gem.
Buffalo has had middling success on opening days since coming downtown in 1988. But this one was special. Scott Diamond, who was to become the starting rotation’s workhorse throughout the season, pitched a beauty of a game to give the Bisons a 2-1 win over Rochester. It was a sun-drenched day at Coca Cola Field. Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar was in the house to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Optimism was in the air that this could become a breakout season for the team.
The Force is with you. Always.
There are many teams across the spectrum of sports which stage some sort of Star Wars promotional theme night. But nowhere is it presented and executed better than here in Buffalo. Recruiting a local fan group and developing an elaborate story which now spans many seasons, Buffalo’s Star Wars night has fans packing the stadium, kids lighting up their light sabers, and attention to detail, making this one of the most special entertainment nights on the Buffalo calendar. Judging from the ticket demand, this event, set for June 3, is sure to sell out even earlier come 2017.
Dalton Pompey. Darrell Cecilliani. Jesus Montero.
On a roster where hitting and home run power went absent for embarrassingly long stretches, these three players had their groove going game in and game out. Pompey has had experience up in the bigs, and accepting a season-long demotion to Buffalo had to be a bitter pill for him to swallow. But he never showed it. Cecilliani performed adequately in the cleanup position in the lineup. Montero was named a AAA All Star. What the team lacked was that guy in the lineup who would inspire fear in the opposition.
The nine game winning streakIt happened mostly on the road in June. The Bisons blew through Louisville, taking six games while sweeping the Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field. When the team returned home on June 30 to host four games against their division rival, the Scranton/WB Railriders, the Herd was just two games out of first place and riding high. The belief then was that anything was possible.Front-office MVPs.
There is a huge cast of people who work mostly anonymously to make the fans game day experience a good one at Coca Cola Field. Here are two of them – Mike Simoncelli, who captains the entertainment and scoreboard functions at the ballpark, taking charge of that role since Matt LaSota moved on to run things on the Outer Harbor, has done a great job this season. All those snappy videos and entertainment diversions you experience don’t just happen. The Bisons event presentation crew ranks up there with many in the major leagues.
Second MVP goes to Food Services Director Rob Free. Who doesn’t like good ballpark eats? Free and his staff go to great lengths to present a menu lineup which is appreciated by ballpark patrons. Relying on locally sourced ingredients, great craft beers, and creative concession items while keeping it simple is no easy task.
Atomic Wing’s suspension.
The big story in this year’s mascot race wasn’t even Celery’s endless futility. It was Atomic Wing’s fast start, only to be brought down via suspension due to ingesting some sort of illegal substances. The horrible illegal act was captured on video and as the season wound down it was Chicken Wing piling on the wins to a season-ending photo finish.
More new seats coming to the ballpark.
Seven more sections down the 100 baselines will be seeing those new and larger Kelly green seats come 2017. While things have been quiet from the front office since the team announced two years ago that a study was being done for a promised massive overhaul and master plan for the ballpark, these new chairs will be part of any such plan. Ballpark capacity, which at one time was 21,050, will be reduced to approximately 16,907 for next season.Opening Day next year is Friday, April 14, 2017 against the Scranton/WB Railriders.
That’s a wrap. See you there!