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Opening Day Musings from Coca Cola Field

Filed under: Sports
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BUFFALO1aIt was one of those Opening Days that had a bigger sense of buzz and excitement than normal.

Today at Coca Cola Field, the Buffalo Bisons began the New York Mets Era before a sun drenched but chilled crowd of 13,178, including 3,000 patrons who took advantage of the Bisons generosity for complimentary tickets to anyone who is unemployed due to the current economic slump. For the record, the Bisons dropped a 6-4 decision to the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox, as starter Jonathon Niese was chased after just two innings, giving up 5 earned runs.

–Fans poured into the ballpark in a good mood, as the stadium was decked in blue and orange, the snazzy new team colors and logo which mimic those of the parent club. Bisons mascots Buster, Chip and Belle were decked out in the new unis, and Mr. Met was also on hand to add to the festivities. New merchandise is flying off the shelves, both at the Bisons team store and on the internet, according to team officials. Lines were six deep at the concession stands, especially the themed concessions offering such fare as Famous Dave’s barbecue.

–The fireworks began early, and not just during the anthems. On hand were Senator Chuck Schumer, Governor David Paterson, Mayor Byron Brown and County Executive Chris Collins. The Mayor presented Mets COO Jeff Wilpon a key to the city, while Collins read a joint proclamation naming the day as “New York Mets Day” in Erie County.

The fans saved their energy for the Gov, raining down boos and catcalls, the likes of which this stadium hasn’t seen since the first Opening Day, when Councilman Al Coppola had the audacity to step on the field to take his bows, after trying to move Heaven and Earth to prevent the ballpark from ever being built. With the shambles that is the New York State budget, this opportunity to vent had to be a real catharsis for the Buffalo folk. Nonetheless Governor Paterson, who is sight impaired, managed to sail his ceremonial pitch just to the left of the plate, before leaving the playing surface to the final chorus of boos.

–Fans were also treated to a new voice, that of new public address announcer Jason Mollica, who did a solid job in his debut.

–The most poignant moment of the day took place inside the pressbox lobby, as Public Relations Director Brad Bisbing unveiled a plaque honoring former Bisons Official Scorer Mike Kelly, who passed away last fall after a long battle with cancer. Brad fought in vain to keep his composure as he paid tribute to Mike, as members of the media, game day staff, and members of the Kelly family, including wife Judy and sons Scott and Sean looked on. The Kellys then passed out Judy’s signature chocolate chip cookies, a pressbox staple which Judy brought along to the games whenever Mike was on duty. We can only surmise that from somewhere far away, Mike Kelly, who touched a lot of people with his big heart and his joy for the game, had to be smiling at this outpouring of love and friendship.

–Taking over the Kelly chair as one of the Bisons official scorers, and working today’s game, was Jon Dare, who moved over from his previous role as keeper of the Bisons’ pitch by pitch webcast. “Yeah I was a bit nervous” said Jon, who was jokingly awarded an “E” from the press when he changed a call from a wild pitch to a passed ball in the latter innings of the game.

–In the top of the 7th inning, Pawtucket loaded the bases on walks, and drove in one run on a base on balls. Bisons pitcher Eddie Kunz could not find the strike zone, at one point surrendering 10 straight balls. When he finally threw a strike, that prompted huge cheers from the crowd, prompting someone in the pressbox to say “Governor Paterson must have just left the building!”

–The Bisons did make this game interesting in the middle innings, scoring two runs each in the 5th and the 6th innings. A double by Cory Sullivan and a sac fly by Rob Mackowiak in the 6th brought it two within one, but that’s as close as the Bisons would get all day.

After the game, Manager Ken Oberkfell talked about the missed opportunities. “Jonathon (Niese) wasn’t pitching all that bad. Some of the pitches were pretty close. I like the way we battled back.” Oberkfell didn’t make any excuses about the weather and the dropping temperatures. “There were some opening day jitters this is a new situation for almost the entire team.” Niese, however, lamented the tough pitching conditions. “My hands were the worst part, my arm was fine however.” One of the top prospects in the Mets organization and one of the last players sent to AAA, Niese was very disappointed at his outing. “My first strike wasn’t a very good pitch. The balls couldn’t find the plate and I paid for it.” Throwing 30 pitches in each inning he understood why he was pulled early. “I understand their decision,” he replied about his manager and coach.

The homestand continues through next week, with a 6PM Fridaynightbash start Friday, and then 1PM starts Saturday through next Thursday at Coca Cola Field. Pawtucket stays in town through the weekend, before the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees arrive for a four game set starting Monday.

–TARO SEZ (Bisons edition)… Taro likes the Bisons’ debut of countryman Ken Takahashi, relief pitcher who entered the game in the 6th inning and pitched 1 2/3’s. Takahashi was a late addition to the Bisons roster, signed by the Mets on March 30. Last season he played in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp, managed by former Bisons skipper Marty Brown.