Eric Byrnes retired from Major League Baseball in 2010, but he’s still as active as ever. The MLB Network analyst has completed 11 Ironman races and participates in grueling long-distance running competitions known as Ultramarathons. The longest one he’s ever done – the Western States 100 Silver Belt Buckler – stretches for 100 miles. He finished the race in 22 hours.
“It basically started on a dare,” said Byrnes, now 41, laughing. “A friend dared me to do a short sprint triathlon. And I did. Then that led to doing the Ironman. Then the Ironman led to Ultramarathons. It’s just about keeping an active lifestyle.”
Byrnes, who spent 11 years in the majors mostly with the Oakland Athletics and Arizona Diamondbacks, knows his version of an “active lifestyle” might be more extreme than others. He also skies and has a place in Lake Tahoe. But he finds peace in running. It’s relaxing to him. And when he heads out for a training run on sunny California Sunday mornings, it gives him an opportunity to connect with his favorite football team – the Buffalo Bills – even though he’s 3,000 miles away.
As John Murphy and Mark Kelso regale him with a live call of the game, he’s instantly transported back to that giddy little kid who first fell in love with the bold red Bills helmets in the early 1980s.
“I remember when they first switched over to those red helmets,” Byrnes recalled. “And that big blue buffalo on the side – blue was my favorite color. I was 6 or 7 years old at the time and I became completely fascinated with those uniforms. I also had this fascination with Buffalo, the city, too.
"Growing up in California, I had never been to New York. Buffalo was always this magical fantasy land to me where it snowed all the time.”
Name: Eric Byrnes
Current location: San Francisco; Lake Tahoe; New York
Been a Bills fan since: 1982, '83
Favorite player: Jim Kelly
From that innocent uniform fascination grew a deep respect and admiration for the team itself, Byrnes says. And when the Bills began adding key pieces such as Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Steve Tasker, everything came together. He wore the Bills colors to school, when most kids his age sported San Francisco 49ers or Oakland Raiders gear.
“When you think about what they did back then, going to four straight Super Bowls, it’s easily as impressive as winning back-to-back championships," he said. "Just getting there four times in a row is incredible. But as a long-suffering Bills fan, I can tell you that to see them win at least one would have been amazing, especially for bragging rights in school.”
Those glory days began to crumble when Kelly, who was Byrnes’ favorite player, retired. But he’s remained a loyal fan all these years despite the fact that the Bills haven’t reached the postseason since the 1999 season. And this year, the drought might actually come to an end. If that happens, Byrnes says, he’s coming to Buffalo to witness a Bills playoff home game for the first time.
“I’ve never actually been to Buffalo, which is crazy, right?" he said. "I almost think that I like the city the way I envision it in my mind. Because I’ve had opportunities to go. But I’ve let life get in the way or made excuses because, if I'm being honest, I don’t want to ruin my vision. I’m enamored with the community itself and the loyalty of Bills fans is unreal. I think that’s why I love the team so much. To see how much passion the fans have has impacted me in such a way that I am a fan for life.”
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