Drew Cerza stepped to the mound wearing a giant chicken wing hat.
It was only fitting for the Wing King to throw out the ceremonial first pitch as the Buffalo Bisons changed to the Buffalo Wings Thursday night at Coca-Cola Field.
The four-game series, which runs through Sunday, dives head first into the latest minor league baseball trend of teams changing their names to represent their regional food.
So the International League North Division rivalry between Buffalo and Rochester took on a culinary flair as the Wings took on the Plates. The temporary names were reflected on the scoreboard and used by the public address announcer throughout the game.
Roemon Fields even sported high green socks, an ode to celery, as he roamed center field.
It's the battle for Western New York food supremacy 😂 pic.twitter.com/QH7Rew3Y88
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) June 14, 2018
It was the first time for the Herd wearing the specialty jerseys, but Rochester has a short history already of playing as the Plates. They did a one-time game last season, drawing 13,281 to Frontier Field – the second largest crowd for a regular season Red Wings game. This season, they wear the Plates jerseys for every Thursday home game, along with this series with the Bisons (er, Wings) and a home-and-home series with the Syracuse Chiefs (er, Salt Potatoes).
The Bisons attendance was 6,239 as the game went up against two traditional Buffalo events – the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge and the concert at Canalside. But fans will have three more chances this homestand to catch a "Wings vs. Plates" game and see the team play in the red-hot uniform.
The specialty jerseys create a unique situation for clubhouse manager Scott Lesher. Regular game jerseys, the day-in-day-out workhorses of a player's uniform, must be provided by one of three licensed providers – Russell, Rawlings, or Wilson.
But for specialty jerseys can go to another approved vendor, like OT Sports, allowing for a more cost-effective production for jerseys that will only be worn for one, or a handful, of games. Of course the less expensive jersey also means a slightly lesser quality.
Sizes vary from brand to brand, which can make it challenging for Lesher to be cost conscious and accommodating to players at the same time.
But in the minor leagues, there's only so much he can do.
"These guys are used to being contoured," Lesher said about the trend in the fit of jerseys. "That's been an issue over the years, some guys are like 'this is too baggy for me.' But they're just a one-day jersey."
And both their regular jerseys and their specialty jerseys, are different from what the Major Leaguers wear as they're outfitted by the athletic apparel company Majestic.
"Guys who have been in Major League spring training, what happens is Majestic comes and measures you from toe to ear for every single part of your jersey, your pants, and then they come here and we're wearing a Star Wars thing and OT Sports makes that and Russell makes that," Lesher said. "We had Rawlings the one year for a throwback jersey. Every one of them fit different. That becomes a point of complaint sometime, but not bad."
Generally speaking, the smaller sizes in baseball jerseys are assigned to the lower numbers, but that's not universal. So when placing a specialty order early in the season, there can be some guess work. And sometimes, Lesher expedites a special order to hedge his bets on a potential player move.
That's what happened a few weeks ago when there was a possibility that Blue Jays mega prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could have been promoted to the Bisons from Double-A New Hampshire. Guerrero Jr. wears No. 27, typically stocked as a large. But Guerrero Jr. wears an extra-large. So Lesher ordered a Star Wars and Wings jersey, just in case. But he suffered a knee injury that is keeping him sidelined for a month.
There's still a chance Guerrero Jr. could appear in a Buffalo Wings jersey. The team will wear them again for a series in Rochester Aug. 28-30.
Bisons manager Bobby Meacham has lived through his share of minor league promotions, remembering distinctly the carnival-like atmosphere of playing in Buffalo in the second season of the organization's downtown ballpark.
But now, there's too much going on for him to pay much attention to the bells and whistles, to even what he's wearing. Batting coach Corey Hart told him they needed to wear their red shoes today. Why? Oh right. Because of the red color to the Wings jersey.
"It never really crosses my mind," Meacham said. "I assume it does for the players because they're always looking in the mirror before they go out there. I joke with (Gerri, his wife) that I don't even look in the mirror."