Reflections on the regular season as the battle for berths in the Triple-A World Series in Las Vegas really heats up:
Thumbs up to . . .
International League semifinalists: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Philadelphia) vs. Charlotte (White Sox), Columbus (Yankees) vs. Durham (Tampa Bay).
Pacific Coast League semifinalists: Omaha (Kansas City) vs. Oklahoma (Texas), Vancouver (Oakland) vs. Salt Lake City (Minnesota).
Bill Selby: The Bisons' jack-of-all trades pumped his fist as he circled the bases Sunday night after hitting his 20th home run, a first since he was in Class A five years ago. Selby possesses a left-handed bat with power, can play several positions and is terrific in the clubhouse. There has to be some major league team in need of someone like that.
Torey Lovullo: The ex-Bison finally got a call-up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia last weekend and hit a three-run homer Sunday in the Phillies' loss to the Reds, his first in the big leagues since June 8, 1996, while with Oakland. Lovullo finished his Triple-A season with 106 RBIs.
Steve Cox: Just 24, the Durham first baseman has to figure in Tampa Bay's plans after an MVP season -- he led the IL in batting (.341), RBIs (127), hits (182) and doubles (49).
Dave Hollins: The Orchard Park High grad has played a big role in the resurgence of Charlotte, which earned the IL wild-card after being below .500 for the season's first 35 games. Hollins hit .308 in 67 games with eight homers and 34 RBIs
Casey Candaele: Still going strong at age 38, the former Bison wacko played all nine positions Monday as New Orleans closed its season with an 8-4 loss to Tacoma. He pitched to two batters in the ninth, giving up a double and a homer before leaving to a standing ovation from a near-capacity crowd of 9,585. Said Candaele: "It was a lot of fun, but I know I'm not a pitcher now." Candaele hit .266 this season and was second on the team in hits (124).
Jeff Manto: Will any other modern-era Bison stick around long enough to produce the kind of moments and earn the kind of adulation he has received?
Todd Van Poppel: The former Oakland first-round bust may have resurrected his career with the Nashville Sounds (Pittsburgh). Van Poppel was 10-6 with a 4.95 earned run average, but the keys to his season were his PCL-leading 157 strikeouts and 27 starts with no trips to the disabled list.
Louisville RiverBats: Making a splash as they move next year into Louisville Slugger Field, the Bats announced a five-year working agreement with the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, leaving Milwaukee to search for a new affiliate.
The Bisons Big Board: Fan Appreciation Night has always been a hit here, but the team's festivities last Sunday were the best yet, largely because of its use of the new video screen to show highlights of the season accompanied by the sounds of Green Day's "Time of Your Life."
Said manager Jeff Datz: "It was special to be on that field while that was going on. With Jeff Manto saying his farewell and the video, it was something my wife and I will remember for a long, long time."
Thumbs down to . . .
Canadian cities: The Vancouver Canadians will be playing in Sacramento, Calif., perhaps as soon as next season. The Calgary Cannons, who fell one win shy of meeting the Bisons last year in Las Vegas, will move to Portland, Ore., in 2001. The Ottawa Lynx remain for sale with no takers after a season in which they averaged a Triple-A-low 2,789 fans per game. The shrinking Canadian dollar has made it almost impossible for teams to operate.
Russell Branyan: Swing and a miss. Enough said.
Ryan Bradley: The Yankees' No. 1 draft pick in 1997 was demoted to the Columbus bullpen after getting rocked here by the Bisons last month and finished the season 5-12, 6.21 with 28 home runs allowed and 23 wild pitches. He regressed after a 1998 season that saw him ascend from Class A Tampa to a stint in the Bronx.
Indianapolis Indians: Their seven-year run with Cincinnati ended Tuesday as the Reds bolted to Louisville. Team president Max Schumacher publicly griped about player moves in the past and Reds GM Jim Bowden got fed up with the criticism. Milwaukee is likely to be Indy's only available option.
Fresno Grizzlies: The San Francisco affiliate needed simply to win one of its final two games at Calgary -- the team with the PCL's second-worst record -- to clinch the PCL South title. But Fresno gave up 27 runs in the two games and allowed Salt Lake City to sneak into the playoffs.
Nashville Sounds: A 15-game winning streak at midseason and an 8 1/2 -game lead in the PCL East after the all-star break weren't enough. The Sounds finished 17-24 and lost the division by two games to Oklahoma.
Jeff Manto: Monday's two at-bat stint to try to hit .300 for the season rang hollow after Sunday's dramatic announcement that he had played his last game in the minors. Here's one vote wishing Manto had gone out after Sunday's final at-bat, with the ball heading over the left-field fence and the strains of the music from "The Natural" still fresh in everyone's ears.
Tony Pena: The '79 Bison and longtime major league catcher had a disastrous debut year as a manager at New Orleans. Injuries and call-ups to Houston left the defending Triple-A Series champions with a PCL-worst 55-85 record. The Zephyrs' season included a franchise-record 11-game losing streak and a 12-11 loss at Tucson in which they blew an 11-1 lead.
Houston foolishly gave Pena a two-year contract prior to the season. PCL observers say he was in over his head as a first-year manager at the minors' top rung.