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With Bisons not turning on lights Friday, a look at 10 memorable home openers

Mike Harrington

The schedule says we were supposed to be at Sahlen Field Friday night at 6 for the Bisons' home opener against the Rochester Red Wings. Now, the weather forecast with temperatures in the 30s says we may not have seen baseball until Saturday afternoon, but we digress.

We won't be there either day, of course, as the Covid-19 pandemic has the minor-league baseball season on hold like every other professional sport in the land.

The Bisons will be sponsoring a social media presentation all day for #OpeningDayatHome on both their Twitter feed (@BuffaloBisons) and at Bisons.com. The team will stream the 2019 home opener, an 8-3 win over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at 1 p.m. on its website and Facebook page.

There will be video messages from players and ballpark fixtures, an online edition of the WCC Mascot Race, grilling tips on ballpark hot dogs from Sahlen's scoreboard features, and real-time commentary from radio/TV voices Pat Malacaro and Duke McGuire.

[Related: It will be a quiet Opening Day for Bisons voice Pat Malacaro]

It's making the best of a sad situation. There will no baseball to spring us into thoughts of summer on Friday night, or on any of the five following days that the Herd was scheduled to play at home. For now, all we can do is look at the past.

There have been 32 home openers at Sahlen Field and this corner has been fortunate to be at 30 of them. The only absences: The 2003 game was missed to attend Syracuse's run to the Final Four in New Orleans and the 2010 contest came in the midst of the Sabres-Boston playoff series. Remember when the Sabres played in those?

The Bisons have gone 20-12 in the home openers downtown after moving there in 1988. Six games were postponed and tried another day, and it took four "another days" to finally play in 2007 because of snow. Our weather luck has been mostly bad of late, as the home opener has not been played with a game-time temperature above 56 degrees since 2010.

Four games were sellouts and the tickets-sold count has been over 10,000 for every opener played on its original date. Last year's count was 12,898 on a sunny day with a game-time temperature of just 41 degrees.

Opening Day brings back all the sounds and smells of the ballpark and, oh, how we all hope to enjoy them again someday soon. In the interim, we take a look back. Here's my list of 10 Sahlen Field openers that stand out:

April 14, 1988 – The first game in ballpark history. We will never forget it. After a morning parade through downtown and a ribbon-cutting on the ballpark plaza, the Bisons beat the Denver Zephyrs, 1-0, in front of the first of many sellouts of 19,500 as lefty Bob Patterson carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and catcher Tom Prince provided the offense with a third-inning solo home run. Prince, a member of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame, played parts of five seasons for Buffalo and is slated to return this year as the manager of the Toledo Mud Hens if the Herd's season is played.

April 17, 1991 – With a decision on major-league expansion looming just two months away, the biggest crowd in ballpark history (21,050) saw the Bisons open with a 5-2 loss to the Denver Zephyrs. It was the first game played with the park's right-field bleachers expanded. Even though Buffalo did not get the MLB call in June, the Herd won the first American Association division championship in its modern era and sold 1,240,951 tickets, a record for the minor leagues that may never be broken.

April 8, 1993 – It wasn't the most significant opener but it might have been the most perfect. The Bisons opened the quest for a third straight Association East title with an 8-1 win over the Omaha Royals in front of 21,050 on a sunny, 76-degree day. Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Russ Morman's two-out, three-run double to right-center field in the third was the big blow.

April 4, 1997 – A crowd of 19,576 saw the first extra-inning home opener and the Bisons' 4-3, 11-inning win over Nashville foreshadowed a season full of drama. A game-winning single by Mike Busch, who homered earlier in the game, was the first marquee moment in a season that included the modern era's first three-homer game (Jeff Manto), its first no-hitter (Bartolo Colon) and its first playoff championship. It was Buffalo's final season in the Association.

April 10, 1998 – Delayed by rain for a day, Buffalo's first game in the International League since 1970 was a huge success as a crowd of 11,525 watched the Herd blank Rochester, 4-0. Steve Karsay pitched eight shutout innings, and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famers Richie Sexson and Torey Lovullo homered in the fourth.

April 12, 2000The 6-2 win over Ottawa is most remembered for a 42-minute delay in the fifth inning as a snow squall enveloped downtown and made outfielders invisible from the press box with first baseman Chan Perry trying to survive at the plate. Said Perry, "I had two snowflakes hit me in the eye in five pitches. It was just like you had five million mosquitoes or gnats, whatever you want to choose, coming straight at your face. It was horrible."

April 3, 2003 – In the worst conditions of any home opener 29 degrees and sleet that wreaked havoc with the field the Bisons were the better mudders in a 10-8 win over Pawtucket. Jody Gerut's two-run double in the seventh snapped an 8-8 tie and was the decisive hit after Buffalo had blown an 8-3 lead. Said first-year manager Marty Brown: "The umpire's mask had ice on it and the grass was frozen where I was standing." Freezing rain and snow postponed play for the the next six days at home, and the Bisons didn't take the field again until April 10 at Ottawa.

April 9, 2007 – If 1993 was perfection, this was the height of frustration. After four days of snow, the Bisons opened their season on a 35-degree night and the tickets-sold count was just 5,388, still the smallest in franchise history. Only a few hundred fans braved the elements to see an 8-3 win over Ottawa.

April 11, 2008 – On a 65-degree Friday night, a crowd of 11,283 sat mostly quiet and dodged raindrops through a 4-1 loss to Toledo. It was a downer of a day as the parent Cleveland Indians announced prior to the first pitch they were not going to extend their working agreement with Buffalo and would revisit the issue after the season. It was the first public notice of what had been expected: The Tribe was leaving Buffalo after 14 seasons for Columbus and a golden era of baseball in the city that featured nine playoff teams and three championships was at an end. The Herd enters 2020 with the longest playoff drought in the IL, dating to 2005.

April 4, 2013 – After four morose seasons with the New York Mets, the Toronto Blue Jays era in Buffalo kicked off with a 12-7 win over Rochester in front of a sun-splashed crowd of 15,852. Hall of Famer and Blue Jays legend Roberto Alomar threw the ceremonial first pitch and "O, Canada" became a daily staple of Bisons games. Former St. Francis star Jim Negrych and top Toronto outfield prospect Anthony Gose had three hits apiece to lead the offense. It was the first of four straight home openers against the Red Wings and Buffalo won three of them.

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