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Over in Batavia… A No Hitter and Magical Day

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How to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon on a holiday weekend when you’re sports dudes like we are… take in a baseball game that’s what.

Had the Buffalo Bisons still had a shot for the International League Governors Cup playoffs, a roadie to Syracuse would have been in the cards today. With the Herd’s playoff hopes extinguished last night in Rochester, it was off to Batavia instead to see the Muckdogs take on the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Batavia is the low “A’ affiliate of the Miami Marlins, while the Scrappers are part of the Cleveland system.

The game meant nothing in the standings; both teams are done as far as the New York/Penn League playoffs are concerned. It was “free food for seniors” day, but with meaningless baseball, the crowd was somewhere in the 600 range on a sunny and muggy Sunday.

The fans who did attend got a chance to be a part of history and witness one of the rarest of baseball occurrences – a No Hitter. In this case it was the visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers, using a combined three pitchers, who went nine innings and managed to post a 6-0 victory and no hits for the home team.

The three pitchers were named Luis Gomez, Carlos Melo and Kerry Doane. Gomez in particular was outstanding, he got into trouble in the first allowing a base on balls and then a hit by pitch, but got out of the jam nicely. He went on to pitch six strong innings, and was virtually unhittable, confounding batters with a combination of fast ball and breaking ball. The three combined for 12 strikeouts.

In the 9th inning, Doane surrendered a leadoff hit which caromed off the third baseman and took a vertical hop, allowing the runner to get to second base. The official scorer quickly ruled it an error, keeping the no-no intact. From there, it was a ground out, strikeout looking and a strikeout swinging, and the entire MHV team poured out onto the field and mobbed the pitcher in jubilation.

And where were we? There is a great back story involving my USRT partner and fellow Artvoice sports columnist Peter Farrell. Pete has been on a mission to see a no hitter since his childhood days. He was not there in 1997 the night Bartolo Colon made history for the Bisons – the only no hitter ever thrown at Coca Cola Field (I was there that night). A combined Bisons no hitter in 2001 went awry in the 9th inning when second baseman Kevin Sefcik couldn’t climb the ladder to snare the ball. A few years later, Buffalo pitcher Kyle Denney took a no hitter into the 9th and couldn’t cash in on a Saturday afternoon, which was just as well as Pete was not in attendance, instead out delivering mail.

The Quest For No Hitter and the ultimate failing of that quest has become synonymous with Pete amongst the Bisons media and staff in the Coca Cola Field press box. It has become a tradition among the scribes to call out “See Ya Farrell” or “Good Night Farrell” at the immediate moment both no hitters on the field are gone. This past Thursday, the final home game of the Bisons season, Buffalo had a no hitter going into the 6th inning. Pete showed up (running late after a monster overtime day at work) just as the 6th inning was getting underway. We all knew. Everyone knew that the minute Pete showed up, Buffalo’s no hitter was doomed. Sure enough. As soon as Pete got his beverage and settled into his chair, Sean Nolin gave up a solo home run to right field. 5 2/3 innings. No hitter gone. See Ya Farrell.

So here we are, in the grandstand behind home plate at Dwyer Stadium, both anxious and nervous as the 9th inning unfolds. Literally quaking and hanging on every pitch. A quick “whew” as that leadoff runner gets called an error. Then a ground out. One away. Pitch after pitch we are hanging on the ball. The next batter looks at a 2-2 pitch that should have been called strike. It was a ball. No matter. The next pitch he goes down looking.

I turn to Pete and recite one of the memorable quotes (amongst many insanely memorable quotes) from the 1989 baseball movie “Major League”. I said, “Pete, this is the out you’ve been waiting your whole life for.” I wasn’t far off with that statement. This was as close as we had come in years to witnessing a No Hitter in our many USRT baseball experiences. Would Mahoning Valley have it in them to get that final out?

No More "See Ya Farrell". It's a No Hitter today in Batavia

No More “See Ya Farrell”. It’s a No Hitter today in Batavia

It took only four pitches. On a 1-2 count, the final Batavia batter took a massive swing. The ball was safely in the catcher’s mitt. The entire Scrappers team piled onto the field in jubilation. And we can tell you that there was nobody louder or making more commotion in the stands than us. We were hugging, high fiving and whooping it up, even eliciting stares from the locals. A lady behind us asked if we were affiliated with the team. Really, ma’am? Would we be carrying on like this for a meaningless September win on the third last day of the season? We explained to her and her group that we had all just seen a no hitter, and they were oblivious to what was going on.

We stayed. We tweeted and facebooked and let all our friends know what we just saw. We took photos, went to the rail close to the MHV dugout to cheer on these young lads for their memorable accomplishment. And we just savored the moment, knowing it may be a long, long time, if ever, that we experience something like this again.

It’s a safe guess that the “See Ya Farrell” call will remain a part of Bisons press box tradition come 2014, because it just is, that’s why. But it will never be the same. Peter Farrell, and the USRT, have now attended and witnessed a No Hitter. As Pete tweeted, can a Bills’ Lombardi Trophy and a Sabres’ Stanley Cup be far away? At this point, anything is possible.

Andrew and Peter comprise the Ultimate Sports Road Trip and also cover Buffalo Bisons baseball and Buffalo Sabres hockey for Artvoice. Follow them on Twitter @akulykUSRT and @pfarrellUSRT


Cheers to the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington – Hall of Famer

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It isn’t too often that a member of the media gets enshrined into a sports Hall. Tonight at Coca Cola Field was just one of those occasions as Buffalo News baseball writer Mike Harrington was inducted into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame. Alongside were two other inductees, former Bisons players Dave Roberts and Ernie Young, both stars from the Cleveland Indians era as the Bisons’ parent club.

For Mike, it is an honor which is richly deserved. He has been at the helm as the Buffalo News’ primary Bisons “beat reporter” since 1993. He covered the team’s three championships, in 1997, 1998 and 2004, as well as the Triple-A World Series in Las Vegas in 1998. On the big league level, he has covered every World Series going back to 2000. He has also covered NCAA basketball and is part of the Buffalo Sabres media corps.

We are excited about our friend and colleague’s honor, for he has been an indelible part of the Ultimate Sports Road Trip almost from its humble beginnings. He also inspired us to get involved as media free lance representatives. Make no mistake. Without Mike Harrington’s influence, we are not here at Artvoice today. There is no Play Ball. There is no Puck Stop. Well, maybe there is, but it wouldn’t be us doing it.

Our association with Mike began way back in 2001. We were in the Buffalo Bisons press room, doing some “media” work for a public access sports show which was so hideous it could have made your eyes bleed to watch it. We introduced ourselves, told Mike what we were up to, and he was captivated. So much so, that he pitched the Ultimate Sports Road Trip as a feature story in the Buffalo News. It ran in 2001, and when we hit the finish line in December of 2002, Mike did a follow up feature story. That piece made it to the AP news wires, and then a whirlwind of media appearances, culminating with NBC’s The Today Show. That gave the USRT a true “15 minutes of fame” which we will always remember and cherish.

Mike likes sports venues. He likes sports travel and road trips. He especially loves ballparks, old and new. Some members of the media who travel to faraway places never see the inside of the public areas of a stadium or arena. Work involves entrance through some obscure security door, a ride up a freight elevator, a seat in a press box and then a work area near a locker room. Mike does far more than that. When he covers a road game, in whatever sport, he takes the time to explore the venue, get a gander of the city and what works and what doesn’t work with the architecture, streetscape, food and event entertainment. He takes the time to mingle with the fans and get their feedback.

When he tweets from Sabres games the playing of “silly blooper reel”, few other media members care or pay attention. The reason he calls out the Sabres game night crew is because he sees and experiences how cool and awesome game night presentation is in other NHL venues, and demands better from the Sabres front office for the fans and spectators. That’s the kind of guy he is.

We’ve always been a bit envious of Mike, because as much as he travels for his job, he gets to experience cool events and places that are hard for the USRT to get to. How many epic World Series’ moments, how many NCAA Final Fours? Being working media is hard and grueling work, but it’s also full of awesomeness.

But we are guessing that sometimes Mike is envious of the USRT as well. He follows our travels religiously, he checks out our Artvoice columns as part of his reading rotation. In 2011 we had the good fortune to travel to Europe and follow the Sabres on their epic trip through Mannheim, Helsinki and Berlin. The Buffalo News didn’t send Mike, but he was following our travels and stories every step of the way.

In 2009, New York opened two gleaming baseball venues, those being Citifield, the home of the Mets, and the new Yankee Stadium, home of the Yankees. In May of that year, Mike traveled to New York, and then prepared a multi page feature for the Buffalo News profiling the new ballparks. The body of work was USRT-esque. it totally captured the feel of everything regarding New York’s two new stadiums. We’d like to think that we had some influence and impact on Mike’s decision to go on that trip, and to do all that work to create something that was so journalistically superior and thorough.

The Buffalo Bisons press box is almost like a family – staff, media members, the official scorer and public relations people sit together, mingle and do their jobs. Mike is a mainstay of that environment. When we joined Artvoice in 2004, he made us feel welcome, and since that time, we have seen him welcome other new journalists and bloggers as they have made their way through the accreditation process and take their seats as members of the media.

And the last endearing memory we get to share – We get to cover a few hockey road games for Artvoice each year, and just happened to be in Chicago’s United Center in January of 2012. The Sabres played an awful and forgettable game that night, and were in the midst of a protracted slump. In the post game gathering in the hallway downstairs, Mike repeatedly challenged Coach Lindy Ruff on his decision to keep Ville Leino in the game after some horrible miscues on the ice. Exasperated, Coach Ruff finally snapped, “Mike, YOU COACH”, and stormed away in a huff. It was an epic media moment and we were among the few fortunate enough to have been there in person.

So on this night we raise a glass to toast our good friend, our colleague, and our mentor, Mike Harrington, on the occasion of this great honor. Thank you for the fellowship, and hoping for many more years of association through our work assignments and our shared love of sports.

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Follow the Ultimate Sports Road Trip on Twitter @akulykUSRT and @pfarrellUSRT


And over at ECDems, a good day

Friday June 14 was one of those good days over at Erie County Democratic Committee headquarters. One of those days where the boss calls the local pizzeria for delivery for the entire staff, including party hats, confetti and pitchers of orangeade to wash down the food.

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So what happened? Perhaps a sighting of Erie County Comptroller candidate Lynn Szalkowski? Well, no. One can’t even find her on a milk carton, much less at a public event.

So maybe release of a new poll showing a runaway lead for Bert Dunn? Not that either. Or wishful thinking that Republican legislators Hardwick and Dixon would be dropping out of their respective races? Nah!

What was big news was that the 4th District of the New York State Appellate Court dismissed the lawsuit brought on by Cheektowaga Chair Frank Max and others challenging the validity of last September’s election to Erie County Chair. The information was eagerly trumpeted on the ECDems Facebook page as soon as the decision was made public:

Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association
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So I hear the Max lawsuit is over once and for all. Finally. and Guess who is the Chairman – Jeremy Zellner

Of course it was big news, but not unexpected. But the posts kept coming, between noshing of those slices of pizza and tooting the party horns around the office conference table:

Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association shared Erie County Democratic Committee’s status.
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knew it all along, what a waste of effort. Time for these people now to show if they are Democrats of not

Tacked on to that post was this by ECDems Chair Jeremy Zellner:

Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association shared Erie County Democratic Committee’s status.
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Chairman Zellner issued the following statement in response to today’s ruling from the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, regarding the lawsuit brought against the Party by Frank Max, Dan McParlane and John Fracos:

“Just as in the trial court, the four justices today unanimously found that there was no merit to the claims made by Frank Max, Dan McParlane and John Fracos in the suit they filed earlier this year. This ruling confirms the overwhelming vote by the duly elected committee members of the Erie County Democratic Committee at our Party’s reorganization meeting in September 2012. At the time of the vote, both candidates for chair stated publicly that they were going to unite behind the winner. It is time for the Democratic Party in Erie County to move forward together and unite behind our strong ticket, headed by Mayor Brown and countywide slate, headed by Bert Dunn.”

What Mr. Zellner omitted in the statement was that the original court review, and the appellate hearing, never actually heard arguments on the merits of the case. This case involved a meeting of the Erie County Democratic Committee last September to elect a new chair, when roughly 48% of those present voted for Zellner over Max, and that minority turned into a huge majority when a weighted vote was applied, a gross manipulation of the assigning of those weighted votes, according to Max and his supporters. The original judge dismissed the case not because of the lack of merit, but because the case was not filed in time. In other words, a technicality. The appellate judges confirmed that lack of timeliness. Case over. Fight over.

As the staffers were clearing away the pizza plates and dumping the rest of the orangeade, one more post was presented to the public, and this one went into a dark place:

Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association
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from Tim Frank, a former resident all the way from Florida in response to post about end of lawsuit by Mr. Max Confirms my suspicion… I was Executive Director at Black Rock/Riverside NHS in Buffalo. He was Chairman of my Board… got in trouble for forging signatures on petitions, went to jail, and got my Administrative Assistant in trouble by having her notarized false signatures.

Whoa, Nellie. Forgery! Jail! False! Out of the blue, a person from Florida steps forward at the exact time the appellate decision is released? Really? Read the ECDems post carefully. Who exactly got in trouble and went to jail? Was it Tim Frank, Frank Max or the Administrative Assistant? And why are we learning of this now?

Frank Max was more than eager to respond. “I was the Chair of our local Neighborhood Housing Services in Black Rock. It wasn’t a political organization and our function wasn’t to collect petition signatures for people running for office. Basically, we dealt with issues of neighborhood stabilization, matching first time homebuyers who had mortgage qualification challenges, and getting their mortgages guaranteed by HUD. I vaguely remember Tim Frank he only worked for us for a brief time, keep in mind we’re talking over 30 years ago. But nobody forged anything. Nobody went to jail. This entire allegation is beyond preposterous.”

If Tim Frank, formerly of Black Rock and now resident of Florida, has tangible information and proof regarding this revelation he shared only with Mr Zellner, then he needs to step forward and present dates and facts and evidence. If not, then Mr. Zellner needs to pull the statement off his social network feed and apologize to Mr. Max.

But will he? It’s all about unity now. Stay tuned.

Disclosure: Artvoice sports columnist Andrew Kulyk is involved as a political operative engaged in local Democratic circles. The writings and opinions contained herein are his own only. Follow Andrew on Twitter @akulykUSRT.


In Lancaster and West Seneca, yet more Bile, Hatred, Retribution

In this week’s print edition of Artvoice, editor Geoff Kelly summarizes the machinations which have unfolded in Cheektowaga regarding an endorsement vote for County Legislature in LD-7. Rick Zydel, who has served as Cheektowaga Councilman and is enormously popular amongst fire companies, veterans groups, and has the robust backing of most of the rank and file committeemen, not to mention the endorsement of the Conservative Party and Working Families Party, is the hands on favorite to succeed retiring legislator Tom Mazur.

Lots of grim faces at the recent ECDems fund raiser. Nobody seems to be having a good time.

Lots of grim faces at the recent ECDems fund raiser. Nobody seems to be having a good time.

Says Kelly,“Instead of preserving party resources to battle Republicans in the general election in other districts, Zellner is running Lynn Dearmyer in the primary against Zydel. Dearmyer has run for Legislature before, in 2009, and lost; Zydel is a proven election winner. Both are Democrats.”

So what happens? Petition packets arrive in committeeman’s doors; downtown hand picks a candidate with absolutely no vetting, no consultation with the local chairs, no vote of the committee people. What is the new normal, that now seems to be the Democratic process.

But Cheektowaga is not the only district where these things are going on. Over in LD-8, which comprises the Towns of Lancaster and Alden, and the Depew and Southline portions of Cheektowaga, incumbent legislator Terry McCracken has opted not to seek a new term. Which is a good thing, since his dispassion for the job, his oft absences, and holder of multiple patronage positions within his family would have made him easy fodder for Republican opponent Ted Morton (and with that loss would presumably go Democratic control of the County Legislature, which is teetering with a slim 6-5 majority).

Enter Wes Moore, who is the dream candidate straight out of central casting. Well groomed and good looking, an accomplished financial planner and banking executive, an investor in the district with a new sports park currently in the planning stages, engaged in the community via his young son’s involvement in youth sports, and very popular amongst his committeemen out in Lancaster. In the old normal, such a candidate would be revered and welcomed as someone who could keep the district, and probably control of the legislature, in Democratic hands.

So what does downtown do? No endorsement meeting, no consultation with the local chairs, no vote of the committee people. Petition packets are mailed out, and the hand picked candidate is… who?

Winnie Fisher.

Fisher is the town chair out in Alden, not even an active candidate, but her name appears on petitions simply for the purpose of disrupting the momentum of candidate Moore, until such time as downtown can find a real candidate, and place his/her name on the ballot via the substitution process with the Committee on Vacancies. The people who carry the petitions, the local leaders, and anyone else who matters out there is seeing through this sham and having no part of it. As for the Republican, Ted Morton? He must be getting a good laugh out of this. His worst nightmare is facing Moore in a November showdown. Anything to derail Moore’s candidacy is a good thing at this stage.

Over in LD-10, a sprawling district which comprises West Seneca and a bunch of rural towns eastward and southward, incumbent Legislator Joe Lorigo, a Conservative who caucuses with the Republicans, has performed the job in an exemplary fashion in his freshman term. Beating him and placing the district back in Democratic hands would be a heavy lift. So what does downtown do? Again, no vetting of candidates, no consultation with the local chairs, no endorsement vote. Petition packets are mailed out, containing one for a Lauren Gray for legislature. She is the daughter of an employee at the Board of Election, working for Commissioner Dennis Ward, and it is possible that she doesn’t even live in the district, instead living in the City of Buffalo.photo 3photo 4

Town of Wales Democratic Chair Mary Julian, whose town is a part of LD-10, had seen enough, and sent this blistering email to ECDems Chair Jeremy Zellner yesterday..

In regard to the petitions you tried to pass on to the committee people in this town other than myself:

Town of Wales Endorsed Dick Dobson for Erie County Sheriff ,as did many others. We do not believe that buying an endorsement is Democratic. We also do not believe that Bert Dunn carries democratic values ,especially after his text message scandal. Not liking Obama or our Governor and admiring Reagan is a disgrace to this party beliefs and we want anything to do with that.

Bert has gone up to many people and commented to them that his endorsement by you was a done deal before the interviews. He also said that the interviews wqre just a formality. His father has gone up to chair people and asked bluntly ‘ how much does it cost to endorse my son’. Bert has also gone up to many people telling them that Dick is too old — exact words Jeremy. Age discrimination is against Democratic values. Might I remind you of your devoted support of Louise Slaughter and our Vice President?? How about Hillary Clinton who intends to run for President of the United States? Do you intend not to support her because of her age?

We are not supporting that girl you threw on the petitions for Erie County Legislator. I got calls from my committee people asking who she was after receiving your packets. I told them I have no clue who she is as she has never reached out to me. No one called us , had a meeting , sent a letter or emailed us regarding this girl. Candidate 101- reach out to the chairs and talk to them about your candidacy and ask them for support. My committee people decided that if she finds no value in reaching out to us then we find no value in supporting her.

We will not pass petitions for Lynn Szalkowski because she is not running for comptroller and she is on the petition with Bert who we are not supporting. If Lynn is running then she needs to meet with me and my committee people and convince us that she indeed intends to run a full blown campaign.

The Town of Wales Democratic committee has endorsed Barbara Howe, Paul Crapsi and Mary Carney – three fine choices for the positions they are running for. All of them took the time to reach out to us on more than one occasion.

to add to this I did try to reach out to you regarding my town candidate. I got no return calls and no return emails. I reached out to the other girl who used to run your office and to the guy who does it now and left messages from whoever answered the phone as well as voice mails. Due to needing petitions I found reputable people to help me out.

While we are not in need of the petitions, I do thank you for the walking sheets. They will come in handy while we pass our petitions out for our endorsed candidates.

The local Democratic chairs in LD-10 have countered by circulating petitions for Bob Hauger, who upon information and belief actually does live in the 10th district. No matter. Look for Lorigo to win this one going away.

So there you have it. This is the state of affairs in Erie County Democratic land today… a candidate for Sheriff who brings little to the table beyond the ability to self fund, a Comptroller candidate who thankfully for her will shortly withdraw for “health reasons”, and spare herself and her family the public scrutiny of the sadness and drama going on in her household, a County Legislature on the brink of ceding control away from the Democrats.

Bile. Hatred. Retribution. It is the core belief that guides policy, planning and campaign execution from ECDems headquarters. What a great time this must be to be a Republican in Erie County!


Sabres New Mantra: “Suffering”

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When the Buffalo Sabres did their famed makeover of the team locker rooms and training areas two summers ago, the most noted space planning casualty was the press conference room. Gone was the spacious work area with podium space, ample seating and even a large standing area behind the camera bays for special visitors to stand and watch the proceedings. In its staid came a glorified nook, with a scattered few chairs and two folding tables in the back of the room for writers and photographers to unfurl their laptops and equipment.

So if the media clamors for a season ending press conference, then, hey. Why not? Cram as many people as possible into too small a space, turn up the hot television lights, shut the doors to cut off air flow, and let’s have at it.

Suffering.

Team President Ted Black, and his now apparent organizational equal, General Manager Darcy Regier, met with the press this past Monday to face the media and talk about the fortunes of the franchise. For the collective Buffalo community, it was not one of our prouder moments. Reporters from two media outlets in particular fired questions that were sniping, over the top personal, and prompted snarky and condescending replies from the oft composed Black.

As for Regier, his part of the discussion was to admonish the public, press and the team supporters that there would be plenty of “suffering” ahead as the team retools towards the eventual goal of bringing the Stanley Cup to Buffalo. He used the word repeatedly throughout the conference.

While few details were revealed as to the team’s plan for their head coach, keeping prized assets Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, or what the on ice game plan is moving forward, a great deal of discussion centered on the Sabres’ decision to raise ticket prices by 4%, an announcement that was made last Friday in conjunction with the team’s “Fan Appreciation Night”.

Suffering.

The Sabres repeatedly trump their robust season ticket base, their lengthy waiting list for season tickets, and their price structure, which remains in the lower tier of the league’s 30 NHL teams. All true.

What the team neglects to pay attention to is its own history and record when it comes to their fan base and ticket sales. It is a colorful story of ebbs and flows.

Buffalo began a sellout streak of games which began in early 1971, when the Aud capacity was still 10,429 seats. That streak continued for almost two decades even after a balcony was added to the arena. Fans would camp out on Terrace Street overnight for the opportunity to purchase scarce and precious tickets at the top of the oranges or in standing room. Being a season ticket holder back then was one of Buffalo’s ultimate status symbols. The front office had a profound sense of hubris and arrogance that there would always be a blindly faithful ticket buying public with lines out the door.

Then the Scotty Bowman period ended. Badly. The team went into a tailspin. And by the late 80s, tickets could be had in all price ranges.

The second ticket renaissance occurred in the 90s. The powerhouse Mogilny/Lafontaine offense ignited new interest in the team, which only grew larger when Ted Nolan’s “hardest working team in hockey” won the hearts of Sabres fans. Excitement over the new arena stimulated ticket sales, and by 1999, the Sabres’ last run to the finals, there were fistfights outside the arena over places in cue for playoff tickets, and the team was offering playoff tickets in exchange for season ticket commitments from customers.

It all fell apart. The popular Nolan was shown the door and got dirt kicked in his face upon his exit (by Regier, no less), then the team spiraled into scandal and bankruptcy. By 2003 the Sabres were playing in front of thousands of empty blue seats on any given night.

Enter Tom Golisano. His Managing Partner Larry Quinn slashed ticket prices, instituted a variable game pricing policy and deep discounts for season ticket holders. The team came out of the 2004-05 lockout fast, exciting, fun to watch and sales surged. While season ticket prices have creeped upwards four of the past six years, the overall pricing model remains in place to this day.

But what now? The dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about is that for the last few games this year Sabres tickets had a commodity value of near zero. People couldn’t give their tickets away.
And the ticket buying public here in Buffalo aren’t fools. They will support their team and shell out their hard earned dollars if they are given hope. Monday’s press conference, laden with anger, acrimony and snark, didn’t exactly help the cause.

Want 99% renewals, Sabres front office? Sell hope. Bring back Ted Nolan, or a guy like him. Announce defiantly that the losing is over. Now. Give your season ticket holders a new incentive that has a “wow” factor. 2.5% Sabrebucks no longer cuts it.

Unfortunately, the one huge lesson gleaned from Monday is “Suffering”. And for Sabres fans and their best customers, strip to the skivvies, grab one’s ankles, and exclaim, “Thank you sir, may I have another.”


Bisons manager Marty Brown… Simply The Best

marty_brownROCHESTER… It was more than just an ordinary win for the Buffalo Bisons this afternoon at Frontier Field in Rochester.

The Bisons downed the Rochester Red Wings, 5-3, to improve their record to an International League best 16-6 on this young season. The 16 wins sets a modern era record for most wins in April by the team. The Bisons have two games remaining this month, both in Rochester, to possibly add to this record.

Manager Marty Brown set a record for most wins by a team manager in the modern era, his 254th win here in Buffalo, Brown managed the Herd from 2003-2005 before returning this season, now with the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

The previous record was held by Brian Graham with 253 wins. Other managers who have served during this era include Eric Wedge and Terry Collins, now both managing big league teams.

“It only means I’ve been around a lot longer than those guys,” quipped Brown this afternoon as he accepted congratulations and well wishes from visitors to the clubhouse, including Bisons GM Mike Buczkowski, who made the trip to Rochester.

“It is gratifying to have such a solid group of guys playing for me. I am grateful to each and every one of them, for without them I am not standing here today. But it’s just a number. We’re here to win. We’re here to develop players. We are going to do it one day at a time,” said Brown.

With that there was one more ceremony in the happy Bisons clubhouse in the service level of Rochester’s ballpark. Brown took a seat in a regular shopping cart, where his entire of cadre of players paraded him around the dressing room, then leading their skipper into the showers. There he was doused with a healthy dose of bottled beer. Brown emerged from the showers, drenched from head to toe, smiling and exclaimed, “Damn, are we going to do this every time we win now?”

Good times. And fun times to be around Buffalo Bisons baseball right about now.


Redemption night for Ryan Miller

Ryan MillerAs far as things go, it was a pretty good night on Friday for goaltender Ryan Miller, and for the Buffalo Sabres organization.

Just one week after a night of ugliness between Miller and the Buffalo fans, the Sabres front office, the coaches and Miller himself cobbled together an almost perfect “feel good” night of hockey to try and put some of what happened in the past behind everyone, and move on to better things.

Few expected interim coach Ron Rolston to put Miller back on the home ice after what happened last week, but being Miller’s 500th career game, who would not want him to see him reach that milestone in a Buffalo uniform. So he got the start in net against the New York Islanders.

The team won, 2-1, in a shootout. It was one of those free wheeling, entertaining games that have been too few and far between this season at First Niagara Center. The players were having fun, the fans were oo-ing and aah-ing and chanting all night long, and few left the arena in the waning moments, when the norm is to see a trickle of fans leave their seats late in the contest even if the game is close.

It was Miller’s night to savor. And he did. He received pre game honors as team’s MVP, voted on by his fellow players. The audience applause wasn’t as robust as it could have been, but nobody jeered. The applause got a bit louder when the PA announcer informed the crowd that this was Miller’s 500th career start.

But it was the happenings at the end of the game that stole the show. Thomas Vanek was the only scorer for Buffalo in the shootout. In a poignant and symbolic gesture, Rolston inserted Jochen Hecht as the third shooter. He missed. Meantime, Miller was perfect during the shootout, stopping all three New York Islanders attempts, including the final one by John Tavares which had Miller backed up into almost the back of his own net. The referee waved no goal. Exhale.

Fans who won the “jerseys off our back” lined up to accept their coveted prizes from the players. Miller hung out the longest. He signed autographs for everyone. He exchanged a hug and kiss with an elderly lady on the ice. The game night crew was following their goaltender closely with the hand held camera, capturing the moments and beaming them onto the HD board.

All this did not take place by happenstance. The front office, the players, the coaches, and Ryan Miller desperately needed this reach out to the fans. They nailed it.

Miller held court with the media for a long spell in the locker room. For everyone, reality was setting in that Jochen Hecht would be leaving for good, and there was plenty of emotion in the air. Team owner Terry Pegula, an infrequent visitor to the post game gatherings, was there watching the whole scene. Hecht had his family present and battled tears as he had his turn before the microphones. Miller passionately talked about what the night meant to him. He was contrite and sincere. He won a few hearts back, even as he asserted that the future is full of uncertainty.

Sometimes the best public relations is not ignoring a problem, nor is it tackling it head on with assertive apologies and press conferences. Sometimes passive advocacy gets the best results. The front office, the PR crew, the team and their beleaguered goaltender scored a hat trick on Friday night. And that is something positive to build upon.


The Ultimate Sports Road Trip at 15

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This really didn’t start out as any sort of grand plan.

There was no strategy, no meeting, no spreadsheet or calendar.

The date was April 19, 1998, and the venue was what was then named Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo. It was the final day of the NHL regular season, and two neighbors and passionate sports fans living at the time in South Cheektowaga traded emails and then phone tag. “Hey let’s meet up at the Sabres game!”

Buffalo v Ottawa. Andrew and Peter, having a beer or two, talking sports and watching Dominik Hasek and the boys lose to the Ottawa Senators 2-1.

Little did we know that that event would be “Stop #1″ on the joint quest to attend a home game of each of the (then) 121 franchises that play in the four major North American sports. And so, this past weekend we marked the 15th anniversary of the founding of the USRT, with a special celebration held Tuesday night at the Buffalo Bisons game at Coca Cola Field.

The actual plan was hatched 10 months later, in 1999. The Sabres were on the road in Tampa and in Florida as a prelude to the NHL All Star Game at the Ice Palace. Over too many beers and wings at a Buffalo themed sports bar, we began comparing who had been to what hockey arena. and to what MLB ballpark. The beers flowed and so did the ideas, and by the end of the night we had those place mats flipped over, listing names of teams and venues and cities and thinking this is all crazy and over the top and never going to happen. But on that night in January of 1999, the Ultimate Sports Road Trip was formally hatched. The rules were simple – we had to attend a home game of each of the teams in the NHL, NFL, NBA and MLB in their current and active venue. If a team moved to a new arena or stadium, or relocated to a different market, we had to do a do-over. When we hit the finish line, we could claim that we had seen each team play at a home game. Eight teams were already crossed off (although two of those eight were the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens and the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, so those would require do-overs).

We launched a web site. Initially, it was one of those one page thingys so that our families and friends could keep track of our schedule, but eventually grew into the voluminous monster you see today with profiles, thumbnailed photos, ratings, and delving into the minor league parks, arenas, Europe, college football and other things we’ve done to enhance the journey.

It took almost five years to complete the quest. We combined multiple visits on faraway journeys to save money and time and knock the teams off the to-do list. For example, in March of 2001 we traveled to the Pacific Northwest, started with the Vancouver Canucks and Vancouver Grizzlies (Grizzlies later moved to Memphis, requiring a do-over, get it?), then down to Portland to see the Trailblazers, ending in Seattle to see the Supersonics. The trip ended on Opening Day of the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. One trip, five teams, three sports, $218 r/t flight. That’s how we rolled.

detroit033It all came to an exciting conclusion on December 15, 2002 in Detroit. We took our families with us, and did the weekend celebration in the Motor City, culminating with stop 121, the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. There were a couple media appearances, the Lions flashed our names on their video board, and we initialed our “Good Book” for the final time and toasted our accomplishment.

What happened next was something we never expected. A story about our mission which ran in the sports pages of the Buffalo News went viral and hit the AP newswires. In the ensuing days and into the New Year, we were deluged with interview requests from around the country. It all culminated with a live appearance on NBC’s The Today Show, which was beamed across the country via a satellite uplink right from the zamboni entrance here at our downtown arena. Truly, there is something to be said about one’s 15 minutes of fame.

So what have we been up to since the finish line was crossed? Well, plenty. To start with, we have been back 30 “official” times for do-overs involving teams that have relocated and/or changed venues. The NBA added an expansion team, the Charlotte Bobcats, and that became the 122nd franchise in the four sports. We have also added minor league baseball, minor league hockey and college football to the mix. We can now count over 90 separate minor league baseball parks visited as part of our project. There will be more in 2013. Add to this 40 NCAA division 1 college football experiences.

And how about Europe. Three separate trips, in 2010, 2011 and this past February, to experience the true joy and wonder of big league soccer in the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga. We followed the Buffalo Sabres as they debuted their 2011-12 season in Helsinki and Berlin, and forged lifelong friendships with the folks in Mannheim, where Buffalo staged an exhibition game. Think we’re going to go back to Europe again? Hell, yeah!

We decided to commemorate the 15 years milestone at Coca Cola Field, because the Buffalo Bisons have been such an integral part of our success. Back in 2001, we showed up at their doorstep as “media”, representing a poorly constructed and unwatchable public access sports show. Yet they credentialed us. We met and made contacts with so many important people who supported us and helped us along. Fellow media members Mike Harrington and Dave Ricci played huge roles. Mike took an immediate shine to what we were doing and did two feature stories on the USRT in the Buffalo News; Dave gave us the “Media 101″ orientation to how to be good reporters. When we signed on with Artvoice as their baseball columnists in 2004 (adding coverage of the Buffalo Sabres beginning in 2005-06), his advice was invaluable in our being effective freelance journalists. And speaking of 2004, just two months into the baseball season the team’s PR director had left, and a young assistant named Brad Bisbing became the new head media relations guy for the Bisons, thrown abruptly into the deep end of the pool. He’s still at the media helm at Bisons baseball, and in these past 10 years we’ve all sort of grown together in our jobs and our roles.

So what does the future hold for the USRT? The core part of all this are the 122 teams. For now, the next “official” visit doesn’t take place until fall of 2014, when the San Francisco 49ers move into their new home in Santa Clara, now under construction. Right now we’re also on the relocation watch for two franchises, the NBA Sacramento Kings and the NHL Phoenix Coyotes. If either or both move, we go see them in their new homes. The do-overs. And we’re constantly adding more minor league baseball and college football to the list of venue experiences.

We acknowledged three names in this article as people who have been helpful and supportive. But there have been more. Many more. And we wish we could list them all. Our families have been wonderfully engaged in our project, and our friends, fellow media members, contacts in other cities and throughout the world, other sports travel enthusiasts many who are actually crazier than we are, and representatives from the teams’ front offices have been remarkable. The friendships and fellowships we have built over these past 15 years have been tremendous. Thank you to everyone.

We are Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell. We write for Artvoice. We travel. A lot. Here’s to the next 15 years!

Follow Andrew and Peter on Twitter… @akulykUSRT and @pfarrellUSRT




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