Music, fireworks, ceremony and even some pretty entertaining baseball.
It was about the best night you could imagine Friday at Coca-Cola Field as the Buffalo Bisons beat the Syracuse Chiefs, 8-4, in the annual Independence Eve showcase with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Bisons had scored just seven runs while going 1-3 in the first four games of their homestand.
But they lashed 14 hits and scored all their runs over five straight innings in manager Gary Allenson’s return from his mandated vacation by the parent Toronto Blue Jays.
“I’ve got nothing to do with it. They’ve struggled enough while I was here,” Allenson cracked. “We just broke out tonight. … I just made it a point today to talk about staying in the middle of the field. We did a pretty good job. They weren’t all hit hard.”
Much of the postgame talk, however, centered around the energetic crowd.
The fans were thrilled by center fielder Melky Mesa’s three hits and three more from left fielder Alex Hassen, who fell a homer shy of the cycle.
“We were talking about that in the bullpen because we wondered what it would be like to play in the that atmosphere here every game,” said reliever Chad Jenkins, who threw two perfect innings to get the win.
“It couldn’t be better. It was exciting. The fans were into the game. There were a lot of people. It makes it more fun to play the game that way.”
“It was a great crowd,” Hassan said. “I didn’t even realize there was fireworks, didn’t know why there was that many people. Great atmosphere, the crowd was awesome.”
The night’s loudest cheers actually came after the game for the show.
Retiring Maestro Paul Ferington received a standing ovation as he was brought to the mound prior to the postgame concert and presented a framed photo of him at work in the ballpark over the years.
The Bisons are also erecting a plaque in the right-field party deck to mark the spot from where he directed July 3 shows since 1998.
The Bisons put on a virtuoso show before that, however. Hassen singled in the second, doubled in the fourth and tripled in the fifth as the ball rolled away in the corner from Chiefs right fielder Kevin Keyes.
With a chance for the first regular-season cycle in the ballpark’s 28 seasons, Hassen walked in the seventh without knowing the slice of history he could reach.
“Someone told me in the clubhouse. I didn’t realize it,” Hassen said sheepishly. “I don’t know why. I guess if I had, I would have approached that last at-bat a little different.”
The Buffalo bullpen doesn’t need to do much differently.
Jenkins improved to 6-2, a team-high for victories, with two strong innings and said he was joking with pitching coach Randy St. Claire that he wanted 10 wins by the end of the year.
“My sinker is coming back to me and I feel better and better every game,” Jenkins said. “I had to get it to the outside corner and it’s finally getting back to where I wanted it.”
The Bisons figure to have more big crowds as the summer moves along, including an expected sellout July 18 for Star Wars Night. Seemed to help Friday. Might help more over the next two months.
“You’d have to ask them that. I’m not up there hitting but it obviously didn’t hurt them,” Allenson said. “They didn’t have stage fright.”