Sept. 10, 1997 -- For all the success the Buffalo Bisons had when Bob Rich bought the franchise in 1983, a championship eluded the franchise for years.
Then 1997 came along, and the Bisons finally got their title with a win over Iowa. Mike Harrington dodged champagne squirts to file this report for The News:
Bob Rich Jr. has a baseball. Not just any baseball.
It's one the Bisons' president has waited to grasp since he saved the team from extinction when it was a foundering Double-A franchise in 1983. It's the ball first baseman Richie Sexson squeezed into his glove for the last out of Buffalo's American Association championship-clinching victory Wednesday night at Sec Taylor Stadium. Torey Lovullo made sure to present Rich with the ball when the team retreated to the clubhouse after its 5-4, 10-inning win over the Iowa Cubs produced the city's first baseball title since 1961.
"It's never easy, never," a champagne-drenched Rich said as he and wife Mindy viewed the celebration. "We've come so close so many times and you think of the teams in the past at a time like this. This team has great heart and (manager) Brian Graham has been a great leader. . . . It's a storybook year for us. I don't think anybody could have expected this at the start of the year."
Rich survived the game's gut-wrenching turns that saw Buffalo blow a 4-2 lead in the ninth, only to win it on Sean Casey's home run in the 10th.
"I'm numb by that time," Rich said. "We've played so much good baseball in 13 years in the Association and a title had eluded us. It's almost human nature to wait for how the sky is going to fall down tonight."
Lovullo and Casey Candaele both played for the '95 Bisons that lost Game Five of the finals at home to Louisville. It was one of the franchise's most bitterly disappointing moments and they understood how important this title was for the Buffalo owner after three previous failures in the finals.
"I made it clear to everybody in the eighth inning I wanted that ball in my hands if we won," Lovullo said. "I told all the outfielders and Richie Sexson I wanted to present it to Bob and Mindy Rich.
"I know how bad the fans in Buffalo wanted it, how bad the front office wanted it and how bad Bob and Mindy wanted it."
"We've had a lot of great people donate items to the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame, but this is my memorabilia right here," Rich said, pointing to the ball. "It was great of these guys to give it to me and nothing will replace this for me. I only wish we would have been in Buffalo for all the fans to enjoy this."
For more of Harrington's recollections on the Bisons' 1997 title clincher, go to this post on the Inside Pitch blog.
--- Budd Bailey