Bisons need downsizing at ballpark - The Buffalo News

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Bisons need downsizing at ballpark

So the Bisons and the Kansas City-based architects who built Coca-Cola Field say the park needs some major upgrades and will be preparing a plan in the next few months for potentially millions of dollars in changes. I’m all for it. The place still works very well but definitely needs some spiffing up as it reaches middle age.

I’ve never been shy about spending Bob Rich’s money and, in this case, some of Byron Brown’s war chest as well. A lot of money needs to be spent on infrastructure things like boilers and air conditioning systems (fix the press box, boys), concrete work and waterproofing. Fair enough. Required maintenance. I’ll spend on items the fans can see.

• The Bisons and the city need to think intimacy, intimacy, intimacy. The ballpark is too big. The capacity of a shade over 18,000 really only comes into play 4-5 times a year. They need to take it down to about 12,000 and that might actually help attendance by driving up ticket demand and creating more presales for people concerned about being shut out.

Right now, Bisons games are heavy walkup sales. And what does that mean if there’s a sudden shower at 4 p.m. prior to a night game? Nobody buys. If people have tickets in hand, they’ll come.

With a reduction here, Indianapolis (14,000) and Louisville (around 13,000) would thus be the biggest parks in the International League. Nine of the 14 facilities seat just over the Triple-A minimum of 10,000. With our population drop since 1988, a 10,000-12,000-seat park is all we need.

• I know the Bisons have considered for years ripping out all the seats and replacing them. The lifespan is only about 20 years. Many are faded or have broken springs. (If you go to a game and find a broken seat, report it at the guest relations booth. They’ll get it fixed for future games.)

They will do this for sure. Many of the sections down the lines that have 20-plus seats in them will be cut back. Seats will be made wider. I’d like to see angles down the lines changed more to face home plate easier too.

It would seem going to blue for the seats would be ideal considering the Blue Jays affiliation. But blue is a Pepsi color and Coke has the naming rights so I assume that can’t happen. So maybe they go to classic ballpark green.

• Fans at minor-league parks love grass berms. Places like Rochester, Indianapolis and Scranton have them. The Bisons put one up 10 years ago in right field and it’s a dirt mound. Barely over the fence. Can’t see the game. Put real ones in. Go down the lines with them like in Rochester or behind the fences like Indy and Scranton so people can catch some home run balls.

Make sure they’re lush so they don’t turn into mud hills when it rains too. I get the Thruway ramp is an impediment but basically never being able to catch a home run ball has always been a big negative to me about our park. If that means changing dimensions to create more room, so be it.

• Go for more party decks and fewer seats. Create more group sale opportunities but have some available for individual sale with drink rails and such. We want to think summer. Create a tiki bar. There’s plenty of wasteland like the left-field corner to do some new and creative things.

Do lots of that in the club level too. The “upper deck” sits mostly empty. The Colorado Rockies, for instance, ripped out huge chunks of their upper deck in right field for a party deck this season. Something like that could be done here.

• Open up the concourse. Coca-Cola Field is 80s style of seating area and concourse and never the twain shall meet. Most minor- and major-league parks have now opened it up where you can stand in line for food and beverage and still see the game.

Logistics of what’s already built make that tough here. But I would think the Bisons could at least open up the home plate area and create a giant lobby where people could at least see in from outside a little bit.

• I hate missing an inning or two in line and watching a 1980s box TV at the stand. Flat screens, please. And that’s part of the big techno fix needed. Full, reliable wi-fi everyone is simply expected these days. I’m sure that will get done.

• Bisons president Jon Dandes, whose background is in food service, has mentioned the team is studying concession upgrades as well. A lot of that is probably systemic because much of the equipment dates to the 1980s. The team is good about trying new items every year. It will be interesting to see what the plans are in this area.

Tommy John chronicles

Oakland’s Jarrod Parker, Arizona’s Patrick Corbin and the Atlanta tandem of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy all went down in spring training and need Tommy John surgery. Bisons pitcher Kyle Drabek is on the road back from his second such procedure.

Now comes 22-year-old Jameson Taillon, who was expected to start the season in Indianapolis this year and then head to Pittsburgh and perhaps have the kind of impact Gerrit Cole did last year. Same thing. Soreness in the elbow. Tommy John. See you in 12 months, maybe more.

Teams baby their pitchers these days, all the way from Class A to the big leagues. You routinely hear scouts rail over pitch counts. There were far less major elbow injuries years ago when pitchers simply threw more, whether it was tosses during the game or amount of warmup time between starts.

Teams have never been more vigilant monitoring pitchers and there’s still more surgeries than ever. More than a dozen pitchers have gone down in the last couple months.

“If we knew there was a sure-fire, 100-percent fix, every pitcher would do it,” said Pirates GM Neal Huntington. “And every pitcher would do it the exact same way, and every surgeon would do the surgery the exact same way.

The challenge is, these are completely gray areas. We’re learning more, but we still have a lot more to learn.”

Quick replay review

I’m getting a lot of inquiries in person and via e-mail and Twitter on instant replay. Regular readers to this space recall I have long been in favor of a challenge system but I did not envision the goofiness of watching managers wait for some signal from the dugout.

I’m going to keep watching for another couple weeks, both on TV and in person, before I weigh in some more. Stay tuned.

Around the horn

• A sellout crowd of 10,231 was on hand Friday night in Charlotte for the opening of BB&T Ballpark, which is smack in the middle of downtown after the Knights played for years across the border in Fort Mill, S.C.

The Knights lost the opener to Norfolk, 8-6, in 12 innings and the Charlotte Observer’s story on the game in Saturday’s editions referred to manager Joel Skinner as “coach.” Dear folks in NASCAR land: It’s “manager.”

• With Shane Victorino battling an illness and the need to manage Grady Sizemore’s work early in the season, the Red Sox used their sixth outfield combination in the first 10 games Thursday against the Yankees. They haven’t had the same trio two days in row.

• Until former Bison Jeurys Familia hit Hank Conger with a pitch to force in the winning run in the 11th inning Friday night in Anaheim, the Mets’ bullpen had rung up 20∑ consecutive scoreless innings. That was a great bounceback after the pen had given up 14 runs in the first four games and lost closer Bobby Parnell to the Tommy John list.

• Stephen Drew remains unsigned. Just saying, Yankees. Can you really go all season with Derek Jeter moving a foot left or right at shortstop?


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