Arts & Culture Sports

BIG CHANGES COMING TO MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL By Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell

Buffalo Bisons to feel immediate effects on rules to speed up games

Are you one of those fans who have attended with your kids a Bisons Fridaynightbash with fireworks, or a Sunday afternoon kids run the bases day? Have your plans for postgame fun been dashed because the game itself went on for an interminable time and you eventually bailed and went home? Well, read on, because good news is coming your way.

Or are you one of those fans who is a stat geek? You bring your scorecard, record balls and strikes and hits and outs, crunch statistics, and appreciate the sanctity of The Game. You are a baseball purist, so get ready to howl in disgust.

A massive change is headed to all of organized Minor League Baseball, and it’s headed our way. Like, this season. Like, really soon as the Bisons begin their season next Friday on the road and at home on April 12.

Here are the features: If a game is tied after nine innings of regulation play, all subsequent innings will begin with a runner standing on second base. The runner awarded the base will be the last player to end the previous inning, and the batting rotation will continue as scheduled.

But there’s a lot more. Mound visits. At the AAA level, mound visits will be limited to six per team in any game, whether seven or nine innings. A mound visit is defined as any trip by a coach, team manager or position player to confer with the pitcher. There are exceptions. A mound visit will not count if to clean cleats in rainy conditions, or an injury on the field, or following the announcement of an offensive substitution.

Got that? Keep reading.

That 20-second clock, which has been used these past few seasons to ensure that a pitcher is in wind-up mode between pitches within an allotted time, has now been sped up to 15 seconds when no runners are on base.

All this is designed to get games completed and in the books within a shorter timespan, and to reduce the need to shuffle pitchers between the various minor league levels when staffing is short or arms are used up.

“We think it’s not the best idea for the game, and we voted against it,” said Bisons Vice President and General Manager Mike Buczkowski, referring to adding a runner on base when a game goes to extra innings.

Buczkowski lamented the idea that epic and memorable extra-inning games might soon become a thing of the past, and cited two examples. “Perhaps the greatest game ever played in this ballpark went 18 innings (the one-game playoff between the Buffalo Bisons and the Nashville Sounds, which was won by Nashville in the 18th inning). Under these rules that game does not go down that way.”

Back in 1981, the longest game in professional history took place between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium. That game took 8 hours, 25 minutes to play, went 33 innings, and was won 3-2 by the hometown PawSox. “Their team tweeted out that that is a record that now will never be broken,” said Buczkowski.

For longtime Bisons Official Scorer Kevin Lester, the changes mean new guidelines from the league office, which he has already received, and another twist in keeping the official score. “If the player placed on second comes home to score, that counts as an unearned run and will not affect the pitcher stats,” said Lester.

“Of course,” Lester added, say that player reaches third on a passed ball then comes home on a sacrifice fly, and then the pitcher proceeds to strike out the side to end the inning. That pitcher has played a near-perfect inning but ends up tagged with the loss. So yeah, these rules changes have consequences.”

Lester, a former minor league player, athletic director, coach and ardent follower of the game pulled no punches as to his thoughts. “I get it in terms of making the games shorter and keeping new young fans interested and engaged. But there are some things you just don’t mess around with. It might have been better just to declare a tie than to have to go with these machinations. I haven’t spoken to anybody yet who thinks this is a good idea. But… we will roll with it and see how players, teams, coaches and the fans respond.”

Bisons Director of Public Relations and Marketing Brad Bisbing said there will be some in-house training for the game day staff, and lots of education for the fans in the stands. “Of course we will be doing public address announcements explaining why that runner is standing on second base to start the inning,” said Bisbing. “We’re contemplating the idea of a mound visit tracker for the HD board. In any circumstance, we will be ready to go come Opening Day.”

Ahh, Opening Day. A new “Won Celery Place” fan entertainment area has been designated just outside section 104, and that is where everyone’s favorite racer will be on hand to sign autographs and will be the central meeting spot for fan giveaways and autograph sessions. No word yet on what new character will be replacing Celery in the team’s famed mascot race, but for sure new and intriguing storylines are in the works right now.

Some of the more interesting menu items being rolled out will be found at the Consumers Pub at the Park restaurant, including a one pound of meat mammoth “Buster Burger” and all sorts of toppings, as well as a Giant Buffalo Pierogi, stuffed with hot dogs and sauerkraut and topped with onions and mustard. Our vote? The “Can-Am Dog,” a specialty hot dog that will only be available in the stands for one series during the year, a hot dog topped with Poutine…fries, gravy and cheese curds.

“We’re hoping for a big season,” said Buczkowski, referring to a Bisons team that has now missed the playoffs for 12 seasons, through three different Major League affiliates. “The Toronto Blue Jays have done a great job priming the minor league system, and a lot of these young players are ready for AAA. It’s more prospect driven then minor league free agent-driven. We will see how things play out.” Buczkowski indicated that talks are underway to extend the affiliation agreement with Toronto, now set to expire at the end of this season.

After starting with six games on the road in Rochester and then Pawtucket, the team comes back to Buffalo to start the home schedule at Coca Cola Field on Thursday, April 12 at 2:05pm against the Indianapolis Indians.

AROUND THE BASES…

Congratulations first to now former Voice of the Bisons Ben Wagner, who has been “called up” to the majors, where he will be the new radio voice for the Toronto Blue Jays. Wagner has been with the Buffalo Bisons since 2007. He follows in the footsteps of Pete Weber, now the voice of the NHL Nashville Predators, and Jim Rosenhaus, a member of the broadcast crew with the Cleveland Indians. The Bisons broadcast booth has been fortunate to have such tremendous talents working here over the years, and all are terrific ambassadors for the City of Buffalo in their major league roles.

Congratulations next to Pat Malacaro, who replaces Wagner as the new voice of the Buffalo Bisons. The 34-year-old radio personality actually began his stint with the team as a batboy in his younger years and joined the broadcast team alongside Jim Rosenhaus as the postgame announcer offering out of town scores. (He always referred to Minneapolis’ old Metrodome as the “Homer Dome” when providing the score of the Twins games). Malacaro is a proud South Buffalo native and Buffalo guy through and through. Little doubt that his own “call up” to the majors will come along sometime down the road.

 

 

 

 

About the author

Jamie Moses

Jamie Moses founded Artvoice in 1990

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