A dramatic victory. A roaring crowd, with many fans clearly from across the Peace Bridge. Thursday night’s home finale in Coca-Cola Field was exactly the kind of scene the Buffalo Bisons and Toronto Blue Jays dreamed up last fall when they signed a player development contract.
It doesn’t look like the partnership will result in a playoff berth this season but the teams will have plenty more chances in future years.
That’s because the Bisons and Blue Jays will be together through 2016 as part of an extension to the PDC that was announced in the third inning of the Herd’s 3-2 win over the Rochester Red Wings.
A table was brought out to foul territory in front of the Bisons’ first-base dugout so Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and Buffalo counterpart Mike Buczkowski could sign the documents in front of the Fan Appreciation Night crowd of 16,998.
The crowd responded with a huge round of applause, and a brief presentation saluting the teams was played on the center field video board. It was accompanied by the melody of “OK, Blue Jays,” the ditty that has been a part of the parent club’s games for more than 30 years.
“When we signed, we were pretty excited and we were confident that we were going to be very happy,” Anthopoulos said during a session with Buffalo reporters in the press box during the game. “It’s been that and beyond. … It was a no-brainer for us. I think anybody in Toronto could make this call.”
The teams initially signed a two-year deal last September that would go through 2014. Anthopoulos, whose club was marooned in Las Vegas the last four years, said he and Buczkowski talked during a game here last month about extending the deal and quickly came to an agreement.
The teams also have entered into a solid business partnership. Bisons information and merchandise is available at Rogers Centre and a schedule of radio broadcasts has aired on the Jays’ flagship radio station.
“We’ve seen a tremendous response from fans, both longtime followers and new supporters, since affiliating with the Blue Jays,” Bisons owner Bob Rich Jr. said in a statement. “We’ve found a great teammate in the Blue Jays and every element of our business is better with the strong commitment of our major-league partner.”
In year one, things went very well at the gate. Thursday’s big house push the season’s final total to 537,747 and the per-game average was 8,273 for the 65 dates.
Last season, the last of four years with the New York Mets, the Bisons averaged 7,370. A 12.25 percent increase from one year to the next is certainly significant. And the jump of 903 per game is the Bisons’ biggest since the ballpark opened in 1988.
“We expected we would get more fans and attendance would increase,” Buczkowski said. “But especially on our weekend dates when you know how many people are here from Canada wearing Blue Jays jerseys, it’s exceeded our expectations.”
The crowd had plenty to cheer about as the Bisons kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a three-run eighth to wipe out a 2-0 deficit.
Luis Jimenez’s two-run pinch homer to right tied the game and Mauro Gomez’s ground-rule double scored newcomer Blake Gailen with the go-ahead run. Closer Jeremy Jeffress struck out the side in the ninth, with the crowd on its feet and roaring for his final strikeout.
“I had no feel for the market. Especially knowing there’s a Bills game tonight, I didn’t expect there to be this kind of crowd,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s been great. I don’t know if we knew what to expect. We knew there was upside but it’s been better than what we expected.”
“I think the fans really enjoyed the atmosphere here in the ballpark, seeing the young players and now they get to see them in Toronto,” said manager Marty Brown, who said he hopes to return in 2014. “We’ve gotten an even bigger response from Canadian fans than we’ve imagined. And I think it’s only going to get better.”
When the teams initially signed, Blue Jays CEO Paul Beeston said he hoped their two-year deal would turn into a 42-year deal. Winning teams producing prospects for Toronto is the way to do it, as the Cleveland Indians proved in their 14 seasons here from 1995 to 2008.
Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays will once again delve into the minor-league free agent market this winter to stock the 2014 Buffalo roster, but homegrown talents like Sean Nolin, Marcus Stroman, and Deck McGuire should anchor the rotation.
“To me it’s the equivalent of flying first class for a while with the convenience,” Anthopoulos said of being in Buffalo. “To ever have to go back to something else would be very hard.”