Sun drenched ballpark. Big crowd (15,821 through the gates). A solid win on the field as Buffalo beat Rochester 12-7, with Anthony Gose and Jim Negrych doing the on field heroics with a solid hitting day, combined by first baseman Luis Jimenez’ mammoth two run homer across the Oak Street fence.
But this was no ordinary Opening Day at Coca Cola Field. For the fourth time in the history of the downtown ballpark, the Bisons welcomed a new major league affiliate to town (the previous ones being Pittsburgh, 1988; Cleveland 1995 and the New York Mets, 2009). And this one had a completely different look and feel – from the singing of “Oh Canada” at the start of the game, to the ample number of fans from north of the border in the crowd wearing Blue Jays gear, to the addition of Poutine to an already amply diverse concession lineup. Heck, for a minute many thought that Celery would win her first ever mascot race! (She faltered to Wing right at the finish line).
Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos accompanied a large contingent of Toronto Blue Jays executives and goodwill ambassadors, and promised that they would be regular visitors to Buffalo throughout the season. “On the drive up here, it’s about an hour and a half drive, and just coming here to see the players, I couldn’t be more thrilled, and the way we are being treated..” said Anthopoulos. “The best way to summarize is we can’t speak enough about the relationship.”
Anthopoulos has reason to be happy. His AAA players were exiled to Las Vegas, Nevada these past few seasons, and having their top affiliate close by solves a lot of travel and logistical issues, not to mention the fan marking synergies that could be built over time in both cities and both stadiums. Last night in Toronto, Buffalo Bisons pocket calendars were available at guest relations stands at Rogers Centre, and marketing reps were offering information on ticket purchases to Toronto fans in attendance. “A lot of our fans have approached me and told me their excited to be able to make the quick drive here and see some of our players, so I think that’s all part of it. Fans from here can come to Toronto to see the games, and our fans can come here to see the young minor league players. It works for both sides.
The Toronto Blue Jays lost their opening two games against Cleveland at home these past two nights, yet Anthopoulos is unfazed, and spoke of the renewed enthusiasm that is happening across Canada for his newly reloaded squad. “You’d love to win, but there are some good things. My biggest concern for my team is the pitching, and from what I’ve seen in the bullpen is the arm strength that has come from everyone of those guys has been great, and the rotation right now everyone is throwing well. I’m not worried about the offense in time it will come, and I know we’re going to hit. Last year the offense started slowly, but we pitched well, and then the offense just exploded.”
As for the atmosphere at Rogers Centre? “It was great. I wasn’t here in the old days but when that place is filled (you feel) the excitement and the buzz.. Sportsnite came out and told us that was the highest TV audience they ever had (for Tuesday’s Opening Night) and you can see it all over the place. It’s great. But at some point you want to deliver and win games.”
The Bisons are at it again on Friday at Coca Cola Field with a 1:05PM matinee. Anyone holding tickets to today’s opener can present their ticket stub and receive admission to Friday’s game for just $1.
Follow Andrew Kulyk on Twitter @akulykUSRT