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Baseball Herd changes start with seat upgrade

Every year the Buffalo Bisons unveil a surprise or two for their fans. This year there are more than 3,200 of them.

The Herd showed off the innovations and improvements for the Western New York media at its “What’s New at the Ballpark” presentation Wednesday at Pettibone’s Grille.

“Each year we challenge ourselves to continue to make coming to the ballpark a relaxing, comfortable and enjoyable experience for our fans,” said Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski as he rolled out the list of new features for the 130th season of professional baseball in Buffalo.

Topping the list is the installation of 3,200 new seats in the lower bowl at Coca-Cola Field. The new seating is part of a multi-year project that eventually will include the whole ballpark. The first phase is in the special reserved seating area, basically from dugout to dugout, sections 114 on the first base side to 113 on the third-base side.

Not only are the seats new, they should be more comfortable because they will be three inches wider than the older models – 22 inches across. The new official seating capacity of Coca-Cola Field is now 17,600.

The wider seats may be needed because some fans may be packing additional girth with the help of some of the new food items at the concession stands and at Pettibone’s. They include The Original Pizza Log, Buffalo Wing Popcorn and Big Ditch brew, which has been added to the ballpark’s craft beer lineup. At any game, customers will be able to purchase two reserved seat tickets and four Great Lakes Craft Beers for $30.

Among the new concession items will be Oreo Churros and pulled pork sandwiches. Pettibones will offer The Monster – two half-pound burgers, turkey nachos and Irish nachos.

A new point-of-sale system throughout the ballpark is designed to speed up food service.

Basketball has its shot clock and football its play clock. Baseball will experiment with new pace-of-play rules at the Triple-A and Double-A level this year. Two clocks will be installed at field level, one near each dugout, and a third will be located in the area of the main scoreboard in center field.

Along the lines of apparel and merchandise will be a New Era Cap Star Wars Night Logo Cap. The specially designed cap will be available only on Star Wars Night on Saturday, July 18, against the Columbus Clippers.

Except for Wednesday’s rain, the playing surface at Coca-Cola Field looked ready for the April 9 season opener against the Rochester Red Wings. The snow on the field, which drifted to depths of 38 inches in some areas, has been removed or dissipated, and the green grass looked inviting, though a bit soggy, to those who worship the onset of baseball season as a rite of spring.

The Bisons are in their third year of a working agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays and the affiliation has produced a demographic change in the team’s attendance, Buczkowski noted.

The Herd GM said that around 25 percent of tickets sales that can be tracked are from Canadians. Before the tie-up with Toronto, that number was around 10 percent.

The value of the Canadian dollar in relation to the U.S. dollar is naturally a concern to the Bisons. For the month of April, Buczkowski said, the Bisons will accept Canadian money at par, and in the month of May will accept Canadian money at par for ticket sales. Beyond that, he said, the team will monitor the situation.

Besides Star Wars Night, the Herd will have its usual complement of special events and giveaways. Most popular of course is the KeyBank Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Independence Eve celebration on July 3, the Family Campout Night on July 31, Mystery Ball Night on Aug. 27 and ethnic festivals.

Markdown Mondays and the fridaynightbash are back as regular features.