Every December, the Cincinnati Reds host a fun-filled fan event called Redsfest, featuring up close and personal interactions with players and various other activities. Rookie Jessie Winker was there, too. The 24-year-old was drafted by the Reds in 2012 and played in the minors until last April, when he made his major league debut.
Winker says he learned a lot during this past season and couldn't wait to get back to baseball. But for now, he's enjoying the offseason and happy to focus on other things – like the Buffalo Bills. Even though Winker grew up in Orlando, Fla., he was born at Children's Hospital in downtown Buffalo and lived in Niagara Falls until he was 7.
"My player card still says Buffalo, New York," he laughed. "I’ve always considered Buffalo my hometown. It’s always good to go back and visit with family and enjoy the area. I have good memories of being a kid there. And I could never forget where I came from."
He could never stop being a Bills fan, either.
"I don’t think you have any other options when you’re from Western New York. I was born, I became a Bills fan. That’s pretty much it. The cool thing about the Bills is that the majority of their fan base is from that area. Even when they move away. There’s no bandwagon Bills fans out there. You either are or you aren’t. That's how it goes."
Name: Jesse Winker
Current location: Orlando, Fla.
Previous location: Niagara Falls
Been a Bills fan since: 1999
Most memorable moment as Bills fan: "When the Bills make the playoffs – that will be the most memorable."
"I'll give you an example of how much my family loves the Bills," Winker continued. "When we found out that [Nathan] Peterman was starting against the L.A. Chargers, my older brother had a jersey overnighted to his house so he could wear it during the game. Even though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, that just kind of shows you how big of fans we are."
That's also why, during the baseball offseason, Winker says he tries to get to as many Bills games as possible. And until last weekend, he had not been to a single one. But since he was already in Cincinnati for Redsfest and halfway to Buffalo, he figured he'd drive the rest of the way to see the Bills play the New England Patriots. Winker's mother, father and one of his older brothers joined him. They had a blast, he says, walking around and visiting different tailgate parties, snacking on pizza logs and enjoying the atmosphere. His optimism about the experience was so high, he made it seem as if he forgot the Bills had actually lost to the Patriots in a lopsided, forgettable game.
"I’ve learned that’s the best way to be a Bills fan," Winker explained. "You just have to be extremely optimistic. People forget that during the early ’90s, when the Bills were at the top of the division, the roles were reversed and the Patriots weren’t anything. I feel like I have to remind people of that every time we play them. It all comes back around."
Winker plans on going to the game against the Miami Dolphins when the Bills travel to Florida later this month. It's become a tradition and one he intends to keep, because for him being a Bills fan requires that kind of dedication.
"It’s been about the Bills my whole life, when I was living in Niagara Falls and even in Orlando. Every Sunday, we watch the Bills play. My mom makes wings, my brother drives up from Tampa. That's just what we do."
If you or anyone you know is a diehard Bills fan and has an interesting story to tell about rooting for Buffalo no matter where you or they might live, email LynsD21@gmail.com.