The stands at Coca-Cola Field were filled with thousands of kids, swinging their laser swords and taking photos with their favorite characters from Star Wars.
But the full house, officially 17,600, weren’t only aspiring Jedi Masters. More than usual, Toronto Blue Jays jerseys peppered the stands. The ones sporting Jose Bautista jerseys were among the first in the park, hoping for a glimpse of the five-time All Star before the Buffalo Bisons’ first pitch against the Gwinnett Braves Saturday night.
In fact, the Bisons’ lineup has looked pretty familiar to the Blue Jays fans who made their way south of the border this weekend as Buffalo has provided the setting for an odd reunion for rehabbing members of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Three players from last year’s Jays team which went to the American League Championship Series were at Coca-Cola Field this weekend – middle infielder Ryan Goins, first baseman/outfielder Chris Colabello and Bautista.
“It’s pretty neat and unfortunate at the same time for their reasons and mine,” Bautista said Friday. “But familiar faces are always fun to have around.”
Those familiar faces bring an ease to the rehab process. As Bautista was preparing to meet with a gaggle of reporters at Buffalo’s batting practice Friday, Colabello shadowed him, playing a comedic bit as television cameras got into position.
Bautista was still searching for some ease at the plate. Recovering from a toe injury, the slugger had been 0-for-Buffalo until the eighth inning Saturday when he had a two-out single to keep a Bisons rally alive. The rally fell short as the Herd dropped a 2-1 decision to Gwinnett. That's disappointing to Bautista, who played all nine innings at designated hitter, even as he gets closer to his return to Toronto.
"It was an opportunity to get some runs. Obviously it didn’t happen in that moment but keeping rallies going is always something that’s important for the team," Bautista said of his single in the eighth off Gwinnett reliever Jose Ramierz. "Facing a guy that’s throwing hard with a good breaking ball and getting a hit off of him, it’s definitely good any day of the week let alone after you haven’t seen live pitching in the last five or six weeks is another good hurdle to cross."
Bautista is scheduled to play nine innings in right field on Sunday then return to the Blue Jays on Monday.
It's been a trial of patience for Bautista.
"If people recall correctly every year in spring training when you don’t play for an extended period of time you gradually get back into it," Bautista said. "Baseball is definitely a sport that once you’re in baseball shape you can play all nine innings every day for six months out of the year but if you're not, you’ve got to get to that shape and it only happens when you get the volume up. ... It comes with repetition. It’s not necessarily the swing, it’s a good feel for the strike zone and where the ball is headed and where it ends up. How you’re tracking it. That sort of thing and yes it’s coming along."
Just before Bautista's single, Goins got his first hit of the game to go 1 for 4 in his seventh rehab game with the Bisons. Goins started at second and while he was charged with an error for misplaying a ball in the fifth, he made a gem of a stop in the fourth to start a double play.
"I haven't seen him really cut it loose throwing the ball there but he's so good playing the middle infield there that he's got great instincts and timing -- when to get rid of the ball and getting rid of it quick, so he's obviously playable there," Bisons manager Gary Allenson said. "Probably needs a few more at-bats."
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Colabello was out of the lineup and has to sit for a few more games. He joined the Herd this week, returning from an 80-game suspension after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Saturday Colabello was reinstated from the MLB restricted list and the Blue Jays designated him from the 25-man roster. He will remain on the 40-man roster, but he still needs to clear waivers before he can be activated on the Bisons’ roster.
It’s a disappointing curve for Colabello, but at the moment there’s no spot for him in Toronto and the he didn’t turn many heads with his numbers with the Bisons. In his first five games with the Herd, he went 3 for 19 (.158) including an 0 for 14 stretch.