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Ballpark battle; Sith and Jedi prepare for annual 'Star Wars' Night

Last summer, the Jedi triumphantly defeated the Sith at Coca-Cola Field.

This year, the Jedi have sensed a disturbance in the Force. The Sith have returned. And Saturday night, the Jedi will be searching through Coca-Cola Field for them, checking seats, the clubhouse, even the concession stands. This search will eventually lead to a lightsaber duel between the Jedi and the Sith on the baseball field.

Oh yeah, and the Bisons will also be facing off against the Norfolk Tide that night. But baseball is just a part of the action on "Star Wars" Night, the Bisons' annual tribute to the film series.

"Star Wars" Night grew from the realization that America's favorite pastime and George Lucas' film franchise share a unique and timeless appeal.

"A Bisons game is something virtually everyone in Western New York has gone to," said Brad Bisbing, Bisons director of public relations. "The ballpark and the team are something that binds the community. And the ['Star Wars'] movies are something else everyone has seen. It's another thing that binds people. People's opinions about the characters are just like their opinions of the players."

Now in its fifth year, "Star Wars" Night is the second highest-selling game of this season, behind only the July 3 game. That's thanks to the efforts of the North Ridge, a local "Star Wars" fan club that does charity work year-round and has been involved in every "Star Wars" Night.

Each year, the group writes, directs, films and performs its own original "Star Wars" story, which continues directly into the next year. The story is developed in brief video segments that are shown between innings, and culminates in a live lightsaber battle after the game.

These video segments have a rare ability to captivate the crowd. "You've never heard 18,000 get so silent," said Anthony Sprague, Bisons director of sales. "People are running out of the concession stand to see these videos."

Eventually, baseball becomes the secondary entertainment for the evening. "Last year, nobody can remember who won or lost," Sprague said. "But the thing they remember is that the Jedi beat the Sith."

Throughout the game, members of the North Ridge and two other "Star Wars" groups, Echo Base and Garrison Excelsior, will be making costumed character appearances and posing for photos (donations are accepted with all proceeds raised by the North Ridge donated to the American Heart Association).

"Star Wars" Night is a year-round creative process for the North Ridge. "The work [for this summer] started after last year's game," said Chris Solecki, president and founding member of the group. "We were cleaning up after the event and ideas already started flowing."

As "Star Wars" Night approaches, Solecki said that he and the 40-plus members of the North Ridge have spent "at least 20 hours a week" filming and rehearsing their original story at Coca-Cola Field. "It's almost a part-time job putting on this event," Solecki said.

As for this year's episode, with the Sith reemerging to take revenge on the Jedi, Solecki warned that it "ends on kind of a down note."

But fear not, fans: "It will be continued next summer," Solecki said. "We already have most of the script ready."




"Star Wars" Night with the Bisons

WHEN: Bisons vs. Norfolk Tides at 6:05 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Coca-Cola Field

TICKETS: $8.50-$11.50