Every year, he knows what's coming. Heck, he helped plan the event.
But every year, without fail, Buffalo Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski gets overcome with emotion. He tears up a little bit. He can't help it. There's just something about baseball and the Fourth of July and the salute to the armed forces that gets to him.
"Well start to meet with the orchestra in January to start planning it. It's usually a sold-out crowd or close to sold-out crowd and I think the things we've been able to do with the program to honor military people, there's still things I look forward to every year," Buczkowski said. "We do the salute to the military and we ask people to stand up as their branch is called. People cheer for them. It still gives me the chills. I know what's coming. I know it's coming and it still gives me the chills."
The 23rd annual Independence Eve at Coca-Cola Field is Monday night as the Bisons host the Syracuse Chiefs.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m., but the team is opening the gates at 4 p.m. With the anticipated crowds and new security measures, fans are urged to get to the ballpark early.
Presenting sponsor KeyBank will be giving away fidget spinners while a special on-field ceremony will begin at 5:40 to honor Purple Heart recipients from each branch of the armed forces. Each honoree will be throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.
The Bisons will also be wearing a special Stars & Stripes Cap, designed by New Era. The caps are available online and in the gift shop with proceeds benefiting Welcome Back Veterans, a program to help returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) June 28, 2017
After the game, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus will perform under the direction of conductor Stefan Sanders. This is the second year Sanders will be conducting the July 3 event.
The set list includes tributes to servicemen and women with performances of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the 1812 Overture and the Washington Post March. The tradition of recognizing each branch of the U.S. armed forces will continue with the Armed Forces Salute.
The BPO will then pay tribute to actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, both of whom died in December, by performing "Singin' in the Rain" and "Princess Leia's Theme." The movie theme continues with a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Aladdin with the songs "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me" and "A Whole New World." The orchestra will also perform a medley from the movie "Jurassic Park 2" on the 20th anniversary of that movie's release.
The evening concludes with the largest fireworks display of the season. New this season, the Bisons have been launching fireworks inside Coca-Cola Field (beyond the fence in left-center field) creating a more intimate show for fans in the ballpark. (Which also means those who set up on streets surrounding the ballpark for the fireworks show will not see much this year.)
"You get people who might not come to any other baseball game but they come that day because of everything that's happening and the orchestra," Buczkowski said. "And I think why it's been great is you get baseball fans who have been here and heard the BPO and say 'hey we've got to go see them at Kleinhans.' It really has been a great partnership and still there are people who come every year. There are people who the minute we put tickets on sale for that game, they're already buying them. We see younger people coming for the first time.
"In 20-something years of doing it's become a pretty big tradition and a signature event."
The entire fan's guide to Independence Eve can be found on Bisons.com.