The Buffalo Bisons' season is on the verge of bursting and part of their home field went pop in the night late Friday.
Shortly after the Herd snapped its season-high six-game losing streak with a 6-2 win over Syracuse, a valve on an irrigation pipe burst behind the Dunn Tire Park pitcher's mound. That flooded portions of the infield and caused an embarrassing postponement of Saturday's doubleheader against the Chiefs -- on a crystal clear evening.
Assuming the field can be put back in shape, the teams will play twinbills today at 1 p.m. and Monday night at 6. Red-faced Herd officials took the unusual step of announcing that fans will be awarded two free tickets, rather than the customary one, for Saturday's rain checks.
The valve was damaged shortly after Friday's game, reportedly causing water to briefly shoot into the air behind the mound, and stadium officials thought it had been sealed shut. Apparently, it wasn't and water seeped deep into the infield dirt and grass all night.
When Bisons officials arrived at the ballpark early Saturday morning to prepare for a children's camp, the infield was a lake. Manager Torey Lovullo got in at about 11:45 a.m. and was immediately called to the field by General Manager Mike Buczkowski.
"Bucz said, 'Houston, we have a problem,' " Lovullo said. " 'You need to come out and look at this field. There's been a drainage issue.' "
That's for sure. Buczkowski said water soaked the infield in a V-formation from the back of the mound, fanning toward second base. The areas at medium depth and deep shortstop never dried, and they ultimately caused the umpires and managers to agree to call the games off.
The Bisons called Syracuse manager Doug Davis at the Adam's Mark hotel around 1:30 to advise him that batting practice was going to be moved inside to the underground cages. They initially pushed the 5:05 start back an hour and Buczkowski even consulted with International League President Randy Mobley about playing one nine-inning game at 7:05. No players ever took the field to warm up.
"It was about 6 inches of just mud," Lovullo said. "It was drying but not playable. I know we were going to run out two shortstops today and maybe [Davis] was going to do the same thing. In good conscience, we could not run out four different guys to play that position and feel good about it."
The teams gave up at 6:25 and crowd of about 5,000 booed the announcement until the two-for-one rain check deal helped draw some applause and an impromptu autograph session with players on the field helped pacify the crowd. Nearly 10 hours of work by the grounds crew, including digging up parts of the infield and spreading drying agents, proved fruitless.
"It got to a point where the quick-drying stuff stopped happening," Buczkowski said. "You got a sandy base that was not firming up. It was staying soft. The safety of the field I leave up to the managers and umpires. If they say it's not safe, I'm not going to say, 'Yes, it is. Play.' They're the experts."
"It looks like it's firm but once you step on it, the dirt is very soft like a sponge," Davis said. "The top was dry and they kept trying to turn it over but it was obvious there was a lot of water underneath the surface."
Lovullo said he expected Saturday's scheduled starting pitchers, Aaron Laffey and John Koronka, would go today. Laffey is looking to tie the franchise record by a starter with eight straight wins.
"It's just frustrating," Lovullo said. "It's one of the most beautiful days we've had. We were going to have a great crowd. We played a really good game [Friday] and did a lot of little things right. We felt good about coming to the ballpark today, we haven't had that feeling in a week and this happens."