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BRANYAN DESTINED FOR BUFFALO HALL

On a day when catcher Tom Prince was inducted to the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame, a current Buffalo Bison was making his own bid for enshrinement.

Russell Branyan may not be as revered as Luke Easter or Jeff Manto or even Prince. But Branyan is racking up the kind of numbers that rank with the best in Bisons' history.

The power-hitting third baseman cranked his 24th home run with the Bisons this season and 25th overall during Sunday's 7-4 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He now has 75 homers in a Bisons uniform, which leaves him just four shy of the franchise's modern-day career record held by Manto.

Branyan, who on Sunday became the third Bisons player in the modern era to drive in 200 runs, also is nine homers shy of Alex Ramirez's single-season franchise record set in 1998.

No Bison has hit 40 home runs in a season since Rick Lancelotti had 41 for the Bisons' Double-A team in 1979. The way Branyan is smacking the ball around this season, how can anyone doubt his chances of reaching that plateau?

A lot of Bisons fans might have a hard time thinking of Branyan as a Bisons Hall of Famer. Perhaps it's because they remember him more for all those strikeouts than his prodigious home runs during his previous stay here.

But what he's accomplishing in Buffalo can't be ignored. By this time next week, he could be the most prolific power hitter in Bisons' history.

In my book, that at the very least should put him up for consideration to be in the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame someday.

"There are a lot of great players who have played in this organization," Branyan said. "To be mentioned with some of those names such as (Moises) Alou, Prince, Jeff Manto, Sean Casey, Brian Giles, the list goes on and on. It's an honor."

With power hitters, strikeouts come with the territory. Branyan has 108 this year. But when he makes contact, something good usually happens. He's batting .282 this season. Take away his strikeouts and his average is a robust .430.

Branyan has become much better at the plate because he has learned to use the entire field instead of trying to pull every pitch. His home run Sunday was a great example of how he's evolved as a hitter.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shifted its defense way over to the right-field side, basically daring the lefty-hitting Branyan to go the other way. He did just that, launching a rocket well over the left-field wall.

"He doesn't have to pull the ball to get it out," Bisons manager Marty Brown said. "He has power all over the field. I think he takes what the pitcher gives him right now, and that makes him so dangerous."

Branyan is having the kind of season that usually gets a player a call-up to the major leagues. However, it doesn't look like he will be leaving Buffalo any time soon. The Cleveland Indians don't have room for him on their roster. They have Casey Blake playing third base and signed Aaron Boone to take that spot once he's recovered from the knee injury he suffered playing basketball in the offseason.

Branyan also can play first base, but Blake is expected to move there to make room for Boone, who could be ready to play by early August.

So Branyan remains in Buffalo, which isn't a bad place to be. The Bisons are on a roll, sitting just one game behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the International League's North Division.

Even if Branyan does leave Buffalo, he should be back eventually. For his induction ceremony.
e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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