I got a seven-paragraph email from the Bisons on Wednesday. They arrive all the time for a variety of reasons, related to things both on and off the field. But this one struck me as quite a bit different. It hit right to the core of why having the Toronto Blue Jays as the big-league parent is just about the perfect long-term solution for Buffalo baseball.
Maybe the Blue Jays are never going to put nine playoff teams here in 11 years like the Cleveland Indians did from 1995 to 2005. But that’s a pretty unrealistic standard for the vagabond rosters of Triple-A. That was a golden era that will be nearly impossible to ever approach. But the Jays are great partners who can help bring people to not only Buffalo’s ballpark, but also its hotels and restaurants. No other parent can do that.
The email chronicled what the Bisons are calling “Blue Jays Weekend” here June 21-22 against Rochester. The opener is a single-admission doubleheader on a Saturday night at 5:35, followed by a 1:05 Sunday matinee. And there are a ton of Blue Jays-themed activities planned:
• Former Blue Jays Kelly Gruber and Fred McGriff will be on hand each day for autograph sessions in the concourse and ceremonial first-pitch duties. Gruber played on Toronto’s 1992 World Series championship team and played 111 games for the 1983 Double-A Bisons, a Cleveland affiliate in the very first year of Rich Baseball Operations ownership.
• The first 3,000 fans on June 21 will receive a Bisons/Blue Jays affiliation T-shirt. The first 3,000 on June 22 will receive a tumbler depicting mascots Buster Bison and Ace. During each inning of each game, one fan will be selected to receive an autographed Blue Jays baseball, with signatures available from parent club stars such as Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Buerhle.
• Other in-game giveaways will include Blue Jays tickets, activity books and autographed Jays jerseys.
• Speaking of jerseys, the Bisons will be wearing a nifty affiliation throwback jersey and cap styled much like the Jays’ home jerseys from their debut in 1977 into the 1980s. It features the word “Bisons” in red across the font in the classic Blue Jays “split-font” lettering, with an image of Buster underneath where the Blue Jays logo usually was.
The left sleeve will feature the Blue Jays’ current logo while the right sleeve salutes the affiliation with interlocking American and Canadian Flags. The uniform will be accompanied by a red Bisons cap with a blue split-font Bisons ‘B’
• The Blue Jays will be on the road that weekend in Cincinnati, so the Bisons are hoping to lure their fans across the border and have created a package at the Adam’s Mark that features a $139 room for June 21 – plus their first two tickets to one game, free parking at the hotel and 20 percent off at the hotel restaurant and bar.
These are exactly the kind of cross-border promotions both teams envisioned when the first player development agreement was signed in September, 2012. Even on nights when the crowds are thin, you always see Blue Jays gear in the crowd.
There are regulars who sit behind the home-plate net in Bautista jerseys for many games. You see Encarnacion and R.A. Dickey jerseys, you hear bigger applause when Munenori Kawasaki comes to the plate than for most other Bisons. And there are Jays caps dotting the crowd in much bigger numbers than you ever saw here for the Indians or New York Mets.
The Bisons’ attendance was up more than 900 per date last season, the biggest single-season jump in the park’s history. The influx of Toronto fans was obvious. Attendance has been a huge struggle this year because of the weather, just as it has in places like Syracuse, Rochester and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Now that summer is here, Blue Jays fans are riding high with their team’s success in Toronto and the Bisons can only benefit. Events like “Blue Jays Weekend” can only come together with the rarest of Triple-A partnerships. Buffalo has one.
Troubled by TV talk
The Mets fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens last week and he foolishly threw SNY broadcaster Keith Hernandez under the bus for his dismissal. Hernandez has been openly critical of the Mets’ take-a-strike approach, imploring the team to go to the plate hacking if a pitch is in a hot zone.
“The naysayers, the guys who disapprove of us, the guys who I listen to on TV all the time, those guys that know everything about the game, I’m just amazed at it,” Hudgens told Newsday. “What’s wrong with getting a good pitch to hit? Somebody, please punch a hole in that for me.
“I just shake my head at the old-school guys that have it all figured out. Go up there and swing the bat. Well, what do you want to swing at? It just confounds me. It’s just hilarious, really. That’s one thing. I’m glad I don’t have to listen to those guys anymore.”
Hernandez and his 2,600 career hits took the high road, declining to respond to reporters who asked about Hudgens’ shots. But SNY and ’86 Mets teammate Ron Darling had Hernandez’s back.
“If you look at Keith’s career, Keith was the poster boy for what they do. He’s already done it,” Darling told Newsday. “These guys aspire to do it. I think that Keith is probably the best person to talk about how you get on base, but at the same time the aggressiveness with which you can do that. So I don’t know anyone better to speak about it.”
Hudgens, who had eight big-league hits in his career, was replaced by roving hitting instructor and longtime White Sox slugger Lamar Johnson, who had 755. The Mets immediately won their first three games.
More Mets-ian matters
Trying to figure out any way to get some good press, the Mets have apparently taken another tack when they hired longtime NBA PR specialist Harold Kaufman to the position of executive director of communications.
The team said the former Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets vice president will be the primary contact for off-field (business, entertainment, community, and lifestyle) media coverage and “will be responsible for the strategic development and implementation of publicity strategies and tactics to elevate the profile of the organization.”
There’s a pretty easy solution to the Mets’ troubles. Wrote Anthony McCarron in the New York Daily News: “Their poor public image – talked to a Met fan lately? – is not a media problem. It’s a baseball problem. A good product equals good PR, not the other way around. That’s how this business works.”
Around the horn
• MLB standings watch: Entering the weekend, the only teams more than 4½ games out of a wild-card spot were the Indians, Rays, Astros, Diamondbacks and Cubs. And, incredibly, none of them were more than eight games back. That’s not a whole lot when you’re talking the first week of June.
The second wild-card makes it tougher than ever for teams to decide they want to be sellers on July 31. That trade deadline really needs to get pushed back to Aug. 15 or even Aug. 20.
• IL standings watch: Syracuse hit town Friday night in first place in the International League North – and on its seventh straight day of being in a different position in the six-team division. The entire division entered the weekend within three games of each other.
• Schedule watch: The Blue Jays open a three-game series Tuesday in Detroit, then return home to start a three-gamer against the Cardinals in Rogers Centre. The Yankees host the Athletics starting Tuesday.
• Stephen Drew sat out long enough to cost himself $4 million before he returned to the Red Sox. Should have just taken his $14 million qualifying offer and got to spring training. Same scenario out there for former Angels and Mariners first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales, who is still unsigned and won’t require draft pick compensation starting Thursday. With Mark Teixeira’s wrist acting up again, you wonder if the Yankees will have to reach out to Morales.