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Bisons update – what a week at Coca Cola Field

It’s a shame that the weather has been so unsettled and so cold that more people didn’t experience the recent home stand at Coca Cola Field.

The Buffalo Bisons hit the road tomorrow for eight games, and they will be flying out of Buffalo on cloud nine, after going 7-1 on the just finished home stand against the Louisville Bats and the Charlotte Knights. The team toyed with a no-hitter thanks to the fabulous pitching of Marcus Stroman, got solid pitching from the rest of the rotation, clutch hitting from several hot bats in the Bisons lineup, including outfielder Kevin Pillar, and veritable eye candy of defensive plays, including four gems just this afternoon from newly demoted seconded baseman Ryan Goins.

“Winning is infectious, when things are going well it feeds on itself,” said Manager Gary Allenson. He has had to deal with several roster moves during the week, and Stroman was called to Toronto on Saturday night to help fill a depleted and struggling bullpen with the big club.

Stroman’s performance on Tuesday night was nothing short of amazing. He struck out 10 batters through 6 innings, and at one point retired 16 straight batters. When he left the mound after the 6th, he was still looking strong out there, and visions of a possible no hitter, which has only occurred once at the downtown ballpark (Bartolo Colon, 1997), were being thought about. Sadly, Stroman never got the chance. He was lifted by manager Allenson, most likely due to pitch count concerns and his imminent promotion to Toronto which had to limit his performance.

On Saturday, it was Kevin Pillar doing the heroics. The Bisons won in come from behind fashion, 6-5, with a walk off triple with no outs in the bottom of the 9th plating two runs. “Who doesn’t like to win in that fashion?” said a beaming Pillar, who was mobbed by his teammates after the game winning hit. “I never even considered the bunt sign,” said Allenson, who had runners at first and second an no outs. “I told Pillar, go out there and be a hero.” And after fouling off several pitches, Pillar did just that, launching a towering ball to right center field which split the defenders.

It was more of the same on Sunday. Buffalo and Charlotte were tied at 3 in the 8th inning. Darin Mastroianni and Ryan Goins did back to back singles which each drove in the go ahead two runs. Bobby Korecky pitched perfect 9th, and just like that, the Bisons had themselves their first sweep of Charlotte at home since 2004.

“What was it, 28 degrees out there?” quipped Allenson as he remarked about the unusually cold weather. “I think it’s going to be 87 in Gwinnett tomorrow.”

Good weather and warm temperatures might be a good tonic for The Herd as they travel to Gwinnett, Georgia and then the new ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the way they played this past week, right now they look unstoppable. They are in first place in the International League North Division.


April 2014
26 vs. Louisville, W 6-2 (WP: S. Nolin; LP: T. Crabbe; SV: B. Korecky)
27 vs. Louisville, L 1-2 (WP: C. Wang; LP: G. Infante; SV: J. Diaz)
28 vs. Louisville, W 17-5 (WP: K. Drabek; LP: C. Reineke)
29 vs. Louisville, W 4-1 (WP: M. Stroman; LP: J. Francis; SV: N. Wagner)

May 2014
1 vs. Charlotte, W 6-1 (WP: L. Hendriks; LP: T. Hanson)
2 vs. Charlotte, W 1-0 (WP: A. Bibens-Dirkx; LP: D. Veal)
3 vs. Charlotte, W 6-5 (WP: R. Tepera; LP: D. Purcey)
4 vs. Charlotte, W 5-3 (WP: J. Stilson; LP: M. Boggs; SV: B. Korecky)

Watching the big boys in Buffalo – J.A. Happ

ja_happ.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxGetting the opportunity to get a glimpse of the major league players play for the minor league team as part of an injury rehabilitation can be an extra special treat when going to Buffalo Bisons games. Unfortunately, only about 200 hardy fans were in the stands on a blustery and windy night in downtown Buffalo tonight to see Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ in a Bisons uniform.

Happ has gone through two injury stints over the past 12 months. This one is trying to comeback from back spasms which has forced him down to Buffalo to get back in the groove. Playing against the Pawtucket Red Sox, he threw 90 pitches, allowing one run and getting six strikeouts. He got the no decision in what eventually turned out to be a 7-4 loss by the Bisons.

“He’s in his second year of pro ball,” said Manager Gary Allenson tonight. “He’s got really good stuff. I’d be the kind of guy to keep on him, just to keep him focused.”

Happ met with the media after his stint was done, and while the game itself was still unfolding on the field. He had one previous start, at the single A level, and it is uncertain when he might pitch again. “I feel I’ve ready to take it to the next step and try to get the big league hitters out,” Happ said. Happ refused to comment when asked if he would be comfortable taking an assignment in the bullpen once he returns to Toronto, insisting that he has been focused on being in the starting rotation.

The Bisons continue their homestand against Pawtucket throughout the weekend, with the first Fridaynightbash set for a 6:05 PM start on Friday, then 1:05pm starts both on Saturday and Sunday.

The Bisons have a new manager

BisonsThere were more than a few raised eyebrows late last year, when the highly respected and popular manager of the Buffalo Bisons, Marty Brown, abruptly announced that he was leaving the Toronto Blue Jays organization and not returning to Buffalo to manage the Bisons in 2014.

Brown had quite a following here in Buffalo and was very well liked within the Bisons’ organization. He led Buffalo to its last league championship back in 2004, when the Bisons won the International League Governors Cup. Last year, on his return to Buffalo, his team fell just short of qualifying for the postseason playoffs, yet hopes are still high that the team would take that next step and return to the postseason for the first time since 2005.

Enter Gary Allenson.

Allenson will be starting his 20th season as a manager at the minor league level, eight of those years spent in the International League. Last season, he managed the Blue Jays’ AA affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was introduced to the media, and then to the public, at the Bisons’ annual Hot Stove Luncheon at the Adams Mark Hotel downtown on Thursday.

“It’s a great league. It’s a competitive league, and it’s a tougher league than that other league (the PCL),” said Allenson. “It’s a man’s league and I’m happy to be here.”

For the Bisons, Allenson will have a strong familiarity with many of his roster players, some of whom played for him at AA last season. Toronto Blue Jays VP and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was also on hand, and promised that the Buffalo team should be well stocked going into 2014. “I think we have a stronger roster here than last year,” said Anthopoulos, who is still dealing with the crushing disappointment of last years’ results at the big league level when expectations for Toronto were red hot.

Allenson readily admitted that he knows he has some big shoes to fill in replacing Marty Brown, also stating that he had little interaction with his fellow manager, other than on the phone discussions regarding things such as player call ups and individual player issues. “He was in big league camp, and I talked with him on the phone I would deal with player performance, that sort of thing. He’s a class guy. He’s a baseball man and has been in baseball for a while. I don’t know the reason why things didn’t work out and why he left but he’s a good man as far as I know.”

Buffalo will open their 27th year of professional baseball downtown at Coca Cola Field on Thursday, April 4 vs the Rochester Red Wings. Opening Day is just 76 days away.

Bisons win. Anthopoulos speaks out.

Bisons_logoSun 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

Some surprises at today’s Bisons presser

Today was the day that the Bisons unveiled their new logo for the 2013 season, which will be the first as the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Also in town to be given the formal introduction was the new manager, Marty Brown, who returns for his second stint with the Bisons, having managed here from 2003-2005 and leading the team to its 6th Governors Cup championship in 2004.

But there were a couple other surprises at the event today. Making the trip from Toronto was Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, who brought with him the newest Jays skipper, John Gibbons. Gibbons was just announced as the new field manager in Toronto, and will be making his second tour of duty leading the Jays, having been their manager between the 2005 and 2008 seasons. Both gentlemen made it here after hosting their own press conference up in Toronto earlier in the day.

The biggest surprise, however, was the announcement of the signing of Western New York native Jim Negrych to a minor league contract. Negrych is an infielder who has spent time at the AAA level with the Indianapolis Indians and Syracuse Chiefs. He appeared with the International League squad in this year’s AAA All Star Game which took place in Buffalo. “Sure it’s like a dream come true to be able to come to Buffalo and play for the home team,” said Negrych. “Although it’s the goal of every player to make it to the top level and that certainly is my goal, to make it to the Blue Jays and be able to compete. If I do end up here in Buffalo then that is by far the second best thing.” Negrych graduated from St. Francis High School in 2003, where he was a baseball standout, and admitted that he attended Bisons games as a fan from as early as he could remember.

The Bisons will unveil their uniform designs at their Hot Stove event in January. New logo merchandise is available at the team’s gift shop at Coca Cola Field, and will also hold a “Cyber Monday” sale all of next week, offering a $10 discount on any purchase of $40 or more. Also on sale are several “Holiday Packs” of gift packages which include Opening Day tickets, flex tickets, and other goodies along with a special holiday ornament.

Watch this week’s print edition of Artvoice for a special edition of “Play Ball” and more on manager Marty Brown.

follow Andrew Kulyk on Twitter at @akulykUSRT

It’s official – The Bisons and the Blue Jays are together

Buffalo Bisons Owner Robert Rich Jr. and Toronto Blue Jays President Paul Beeston formally sign the affiliation agreement between the two clubs

Today it became official. The Buffalo Bisons and the Toronto Blue Jays are a couple. Buffalo becomes the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and the contracts were formally signed before a sizable contingent of officials from both clubs, elected officials, dignitaries and media from both cities at a news conference this afternoon at Coca Cola Field.

“This agreement is for two years; we hope to make it for 42 years,” said a beaming Paul Beeston, longtime President of the Blue Jays and well respected architect of the powerhouse teams which won two World Series titles in the early 90s. Some members of those teams were present at today’s festivities, including former Manager Cito Gaston and former players Roberto Alomar and Pat Hentgen.

For the Bisons, this represents a golden opportunity to turn the page after four disappointing years with the New York Mets. The team was never competitive in the late season pennant chases, and more often than not, star players from the big club who were sent down on rehabilitation assignments often went to the Mets’ AA team in Binghamton or their short-A team in Brooklyn, depriving Buffalo fans of having the chance to see some of the big leaguers in action.

Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos put an end to that notion, and in fact admitted that it will be easier now to shuttle players between the clubs (their AA club is based in Manchester, New Hampshire), than it was when the Jays’ AAA team was located in Las Vegas. Since Anthopoulos came on board with the team, replacing former GM J.P. Ricciardi, he has placed a greater emphasis at winning at the minor league level and stocking the farm with more talent, and the results are evident. The AAA Las Vegas 51’s enjoyed a winning season despite a horrific run of injuries for the parent club this past spring. The Jays have won league championships at the A and AA levels in their system. They want to continue that in Buffalo. “There’s a great sense of pride. We want to have a good team and all our players want to win. Everyone in the organizations wear their rings with pride, granted they’re not World Series rings, but they are something we are still very proud of.”

Anthopoulos also reported that no final decision has been made as to who will manage the Bisons come 2013. It is widely speculated that former Bisons Manager Marty Brown will be called on to return to Buffalo. Back in July, Brown was in town for the AAA All Star Game, managing the Pacific Coast League All-Stars, and stated that he would welcome the opportunity to manage the Bisons if things fell into place. Anthopoulos did say that Brown is on “a very short list” to be named Manager, and that this decision, along with the designation of all minor league field personnel for 2013 would be made at the conclusion of the current season.

For the naysayers in Buffalo who point to the track record of the Jays’ mediocre performance at the AAA level, Beeston had this to say. “We are not looking at Buffalo as a two year commitment but as a long term marriage. We know how badly people want to win here. We want that too. I have a long time relationship with the Buffalo organization. Our people, including our field manager John Farrell, are strongly linked to Buffalo. This is an association that is here for the long term. We will do all we can to meet your expectations.”