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Mike Harrington: Vladdy's visit unlike anything Bisons have seen

Run the highlight reels through your head. Go through the years, all the people and things we've seen in Coca-Cola Field since it opened in 1988. One thought is clear.

We've never had a hype train roll into town like the one that is carrying Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

When the 19-year-old phenom takes his place in the Bisons' lineup Tuesday night, it will be unlike anything we've seen in the modern era of Buffalo baseball.

The No. 1 prospect in the game. Universally acclaimed, no matter what magazine or website you read. The son of a Hall of Famer, showing up in Triple-A just two days after his namesake father takes his rightful place in Cooperstown.

This corner's memo to Buffalo baseball fans: Enjoy this time. For once, the game won't be about Celery or Chicken Wing. And that's a good thing.

The Bisons' playoff drought is likely stretching to 13 years this season, but you don't hear too much about it these days. Baseball in these parts has taken a turn when it comes to fandom, much more toward event than competition.

Some of that is the ever-growing nomadic nature of Triple-A players, never in town long enough to build much of a bond with a fan base anymore the way the likes of Jeff Manto and Torey Lovullo did 20 years ago.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. comes to Buffalo (finally)

But now, with a can't-miss prospect in town playing for the Bisons, baseball will again be the thing. On the hype meter, it's like Stephen Strasburg's start here in 2010, his final one before going to Washington. But Strasburg was playing for Syracuse. Big difference.

Lots of the ballpark's great moments, in fact, involve opponents.

Barry Bonds went deeeeeeep off the scoreboard during the home run hitting contest prior to the 1991 exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hall of Famers and all in tow, the Cleveland Indians played their final spring training game here in 1995 less than six months before they met Atlanta in the World Series.

Randy Johnson, then just a 6-foot-10 Wild Unit, pitched a division-clinching victory for Indianapolis in 1988. Darryl Strawberry belted a grand slam on rehab with Columbus in 1999. Juan Gonzalez and Frank Thomas played on rehab against each other in a 2005 matchup of former AL MVPs on the down side of their careers.

In terms of injury rehabs, there have been some interesting ones for Buffalo: New Hall of Famer Jim Thome played here during the 1998 Governors' Cup finals. Edwin Encarnacion hit a grand slam in 2014. Manny Ramirez went deep three times in a five-game stint here in 2000. Jose Bautista got booed loafing on a double-play grounder in 2016.

The closest thing for advance billing to Guerrero is probably outfielder Moises Alou, who was a No. 2 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates when he was promoted from Harrisburg to play 90 games here in 1990 – before he was foolishly gifted by the Pirates to the Montreal Expos at the trade deadline. That set the stage for a big-league career that lasted 1,942 games, included one infamous run-in with a spectator, Steve Bartman, and stretched all the way until 2008.

Moises Alou played 18 years in the big leagues after the Pirates traded him off the Bisons' roster in 1990. (Getty Images)

In terms of other prospects, this corner would probably rate future Mets ace Matt Harvey and future Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon as the best pure ones we've seen. Trade acquisitions Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips, IL MVP Jhonny Peralta and slugger Richie Sexson rate as the top ones from the Cleveland era. None carried Guerrero's billing.

You can make the case the Blue Jays have had more pure prospects in Buffalo this year than in their previous five years combined. In addition to Guerrero, the Bisons' roster has featured outfielder Anthony Alford, catcher Danny Jansen, infielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Richard Urena and starting pitchers Ryan Borucki and Sean Reid-Foley.

Not bad at all for one season. Now fans get to see the biggest of them all.

Starting with Guerrero's arrival on Tuesday, the Bisons have 16 home dates left this season until the slate downtown expires on Aug. 27. It's likely the kid is here for all of them.

The Bisons do a huge chunk of their box office traffic on weekends. There are two left with Guerrero expected to be in the lineup but it will be interesting how much of a bump Tuesday's debut will get. The team's previous standard Tuesdays (not counting July 3) average just over 5,400 tickets sold per opening.

The Blue Jays are going to be very careful with Guerrero on multiple levels. The bat is already big-league ready but what about the glove? And how does his previously injured knee respond to the rigors of Triple-A? Will, for instance, Guerrero be in the lineup here Thursday afternoon after a doubleheader Wednesday night?

And behind all of this lies the sticky matter of service time and pushing Guerrero's Super-2 status as far into the future as possible. What might that mean? The very real possibility that Bisons fans will get to watch Guerrero in August – and again in April and May of 2019.

In a nutshell, you need six years of service time to reach free agency and three years to be eligible for arbitration. But players can also be eligible for arbitration if they're in the top 22 percent in terms of service time among players with between two and three years of service. It's called being a "Super 2" player.

Big names like Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Ronald Acuna have all started seasons in the minors the last four years simply because of those considerations. Guerrero could be in the same boat in 2019. Buffalo fans could benefit again. Good times.

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