T.J. House has seen all the movies. Multiple times. He's even read some of the books to fill in gaps in his knowledge of the tale from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
It just happened to be House's turn in the rotation for the Buffalo Bisons, but the Herd couldn't ask for a better starter for their 10th annual Star Wars Night on Saturday. The special event revolves around the Bisons game against the Charlotte Knights at Coca-Cola Field when House is scheduled to take the mound for the 6:05 first pitch.
"Growing up it was a big thing," House said of the original Star Wars trilogy. "I just kinda followed with it and now with the new movies that have come out -- Rogue One, loved it. It's an interesting genre and it's great. I read a lot too, so I've read some of the books and it's awesome.
"My dad was a fan of it when I was growing up. As you get older you start to get more into it yourself so I was able to really follow the story line. I want to say around junior high they came out with those three other movies and they had the big break and now they're coming out with the last ones. It's been great. I think what they've done now is amazing. They've definitely hit the nail on the head with how they've made everything feel and look and producing all these characters and the story line they're continuing. I'm enjoying it a lot."
Bisons pitcher Matt Dermody also said his dad got him hooked on the franchise growing up, underscoring the connection between baseball and Star Wars.
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) May 31, 2017
The first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, came out in 1977 followed by The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983.
House, for the record, was born in 1989 and Dermody in 1990.
"The more you think about it, there is a similarity between Star Wars and baseball in the respect that it's generational," said Brad Bisbing, the director of marketing and public relations for the Bisons. "You come to the ballpark when you're a kid and then when you're an adult, you take your kids to the ballpark. Well when you were a kid in the 80s and you watched Star Wars for the first time as a kid and loved the franchise, now there are new ones and you're showing your kids Star Wars. There's a mirror image there that I think is one of the main reasons this has been such a successful event."
It was 2008 when the Buffalo Bisons held their first Star Wars night, which started as a fridaynightbash! theme night. It rated high on fan surveys that year and the club decided to try it on a Saturday night. It quickly became a signature Buffalo event. So much so that R.A. Dickey, who pitched in Buffalo in 2010, has asked on several occasions if the club could send him that year's Star Wars-themed jersey.
Star Wars Night began its sell-out run in 2014 and the popularity has increased with the 2015 release of The Force Awakens and 2016's Rogue One.
As of Friday night, the Bisons announced that fewer than 500 tickets remained for Saturday's Star Wars Night Episode X which will feature Jabba the Hutt for the first time at the ballpark and on the Herd's jerseys.
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) May 23, 2017
House had yet to see the special jerseys, but he's pretty excited to experience one of the biggest nights at the Buffalo ballpark.
"I'm interested to see tomorrow," House said. "They said it's going to be a sold out game and after the game they have a battle on the field. I'm interested to be able to watch and see it and just see what it's all about. I also heard they open the gates up really early for people to come in here and they have a lot of characters that are out and about the stadium so I think it's going to be fun all together. It excites the fans. It excites us. It gets them out here to watch a game and just makes it that much better."
For all the Jedi mind tricks, there is a game to be played. And while the best pitchers are the ones who block out distractions, the energy of the stadium provides players with the atmosphere they thrive in.
"Obviously once the game gets going and you step between the lines you're locked in," House said. "I tell people all the time, I've pitched in sold-out stadiums before in front of 50,000 people. You know they're there but you kinda block it out. You just hear like a murmur but you feel the energy. You can tell the energy of the crowd when you're in the stadium. You can tell if it's a really quiet, relaxed crowd of if they're really into it and there's electricity kinda running through.
"It just brings it up a level. It's just fun. That's what you play for. That's what you want. You want to perform on the biggest stage with the most people watching and do the best you can.
"People can enjoy a game and enjoy Star Wars so it's two wins."
For those attending, the gates open at 4 p.m. and fans are strongly encouraged to get to the ballpark early. A record number of characters will be in the concourse, on both the main and concourse level, and last year's videos will be shown on the outfield Big Board starting at 5 p.m. to catch up fans on the continuing story playing out at Coca-Cola Field. The box office opens at 10 a.m. for fans who need to pick up tickets.