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THE BISONS' RECORD SEASON

Part of America's return to normal pursuits has been the reopening of sports seasons, and in particular the emotional return of America's national pastime to Major League ballparks across the nation Monday.

Suspension was the right call for all sports, after an atrocity that rendered insignificant much of what we prize in the leisure time provided by our culture. But terrorism's assault on normalcy cannot be allowed to prevail; security measures may and should be tight, but life must resume.

Part of that resumption is a delayed but well-merited recognition of the Buffalo Bisons' record-setting 2001 season. Even the disappointing end to which that season came recently was one for the ages. It took four unanswered Scranton runs in the 19th inning of the longest game yet played in Dunn Tire Park to eliminate the Herd from post-season play.

No matter. As any baseball fan knows, Triple-A ball changes every September, because the teams that take the field after the regular season are only a shadow of the teams that battled through the summer. Buffalo, losing a quarter of its player roster to call-ups by the parent Major League Cleveland Indians and two more of its best players to injuries, was no exception this year.

Still, the Bisons gave it quite a run. Buffalo and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre had split their season series and playoff games evenly, each winning five on the road and five at home. That tie continued through the regulation nine innings of the deciding game, and a long stream of scoreboard zeros followed. After a record 19 innings and 5 hours, 13 minutes, the game and the Bisons' season finally were over.

With the current structure of Major-League roster expansions at the start of September, minor-league playoffs may not be meaningless, but they are at least compromised. This Bisons team should be remembered not for its failed run at a Governors' Cup, but for a 91-victory season with the most wins since 1936 and the best winning percentage since 1927.

Unlike the Major League, minor circuits simply canceled their remaining playoffs. The International League awarded the pennant to Louisville, winner of the only championship series game that had been played. With three extra games in a still-new stadium, Louisville also had the best attendance in the minor leagues -- by just 733 more tickets than the Bisons. But 666,202 fans came downtown to catch Bison games this season, the best average attendance in the minors and better than the tallies for the Major League's Montreal Expos.

Here's the bottom line: It was a great year for baseball, in Buffalo.

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