Extra innings will have a new look in minor league baseball this season and Buffalo Bisons general manager Mike Buczkowski is not happy with the change, which is a massive upheaval to baseball traditionalists.
As part of the pace-of-play initiatives pushed by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, all extra-inning games will have a runner placed at second base at the start of each inning starting in the 10th inning of regulation games and the eighth inning in doubleheader games.
"I think the fan reaction will be confusion," Buczkowski said Thursday in Coca-Cola Field. "Why is there a runner on second base that didn't earn his way on to the base? I can't hide my personal feeling. I do not like it at all. We were against it. We voted against it. To battle for nine innings at Triple-A – one step below the big leagues – and then you start the next inning with somebody put on second base ... the odds are they can score without a team even earning a hit, I just don't understand it."
Buczkowski admitted he follows the reasoning of trying to avoid extra-inning marathons that inconvenience fans for several hours and deplete rosters of pitchers, especially if they're prized prospects.
"But to me, not here at the Triple-A level," he said. "You'd be playing here one day under these crazy rules and the next day you're at the Rogers Centre (in Toronto) playing in the 15th inning of a game. How do you prepare players for that. One of the greatest baseball games in my life, a game we lost in 18 innings, you'll never be able to experience that under these rules."
The 18-inning reference was to the Bisons' 3-2 loss to Nashville on Sept. 4, 1990, the marathon tiebreaker game that decided the American Association Eastern Division title. Buczkowski said the rule will not be used for playoff games.
The Bisons open the season April 6 in Rochester and the home opener is April 12 at 2:05 against Indianapolis. Buczkowski said social media, scoreboard and public address announcements will be used to inform fans of the new rules.
Buczkowski said the Bisons will announce a new racing food on Opening Day to replace Celery, who will no longer race but will continue to be a fixture at the ballpark. The finalists are BBQ Wing, Beef on Weck, Carrot, Chicken Finger, Fish Fry, Pierogi, Pizza, Ranch, Sponge Candy and Wet Nap.
Celery, which won its final race last August, will now be featured in a new area of the ballpark by Section 104 dubbed Won Celery Place in honor of its lone victory. Fans can meet Celery and get pictures, as well as pick up giveaways, participate in charity raffles and auctions and get guest autographs.
In addition, a new 25-person Celery Suite will be opened on the club level for gameday rentals. It will be decorated with photos from Celery's victory and the mascot will visit ticket-holders in the suite during the game.
The Bisons continue to await word from Toronto if they are losing broadcaster Ben Wagner to the big leagues. Wagner, who has called Herd games since 2007, has been in Florida at Blue Jays spring training for more than three weeks calling games online and for Sportsnet 590 The Fan, the Jays' flagship radio station.
Legendary Toronto announcer Jerry Howarth, 72, stepped down last month from the position he has held since 1981, citing health reasons. Wagner has been a frequent guest on The Fan during the Blue Jays' five seasons in Buffalo and got a chance to call a couple games in Toronto last September.
"We continue to wish Ben tremendous luck," Buczkowski said. "He's been at spring training now for the better part of three weeks calling the games. The Jays and The Fan need to make a decision because Opening Day is March 29 in the big leagues, so I'm expecting to hear something and hopefully it will be great news for Ben that he'll be their guy."
The Bisons unveiled new food and merchandise Thursday, highlighted by the announcement they will wear Blue Jays-style powder blue jerseys for each Sunday home game this season. The club has also designed a blue and white Sunday affiliation cap. The Bisons have been affiliated with the Blue Jays since 2013 and talks have begun about an extension to the deal, which expires after this season.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 22, 2018
New items at the concession stands will include Original Pizza Log's apple-filled dessert log, hand-held Mac and cheese cones, bacon-wrapped pork skewers and a vegetarian black bean burger. A rotating homestand hot dog will be introduced, variations to include Buffalo Dogs and Can-Am Dog featuring poutine. All concession stands will have new digital menu boards.
Inside Consumer's Pub at the Park, the former Pettibone's, there are many new options. The highlights are the Buster Burger with jalapenos, onions and bleu cheese crumbles, the Giant Buffalo Pierogi with hot dogs and sauerkraut, waffle-battered chicken sliders with maple butter, shrimp po boys, turkey pot roast sandwiches with french onion dip and cheddar beer dip.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 22, 2018