They were all smiling last night–Jimmy (Griffin), Ollie (Carnegie), Luuuke (Easter), and my father, Bob (Langendorfer). For the first time since 1885, when the National League Buffalo Bisons or if you prefer the 1915 Buffalo Blues “fanatics” or in 2021 lingo “fans” were in attendance to watch professional baseball in Buffalo, New York.
For the second consecutive year, the American League East Blue Jays migrated south to take up residence in our fair city as the result of the global pandemic. This year is different, however, since fans are allowed into Sahlen Field. Last night was the first of many as the Blue Jays opened a true homestand against the Miami Marlins (ironically a team the was selected over Buffalo in the 1993 expansion draft).
As fans of yester-year would have cheered on Hall of Famer Pud Galvin in 1885 and Blues fans in 1915 shouted the name of “Prince” Hal Chase, last night Sahlen Field was raucous with the sounds of Buffalonians shouting the name of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and other Bisons of the past few years. Buffalo this Jays team is our team, as six former Bisons that graced Sahlen Field in the summers of 2018 and 2019 were in the starting lineup as full-fledged Jays.
As I listened to the National Anthems, I thought of those that made this night happen for me and for others. I thought mostly of my father and how much he loved to tell me stories of Easter and Carnegie and old Offerman Stadium. I thought of Jimmy Griffin, the mayor of Buffalo who brought baseball back to the city and once was kind enough to a boy from South Buffalo (yours truly) to invite him into his office in City Hall to have a chat. I also thought about Joe Overfield, the late seer of Buffalo baseball and his amazing collection of photographs in the Buffalo History Museum that helped bring the stories of my father to life for me.
As Robbie Ray reared back to throw the first pitch of the night for a strike, I looked up and took in the scene as I had so many times before at Bisons games. This was different, however, as it was Major League Baseball in our city in front of my very own eyes for the first time.
As we return to normal this year, savor this one piece left over from the non-normal of COVID-19. Savor that the baseball gods have brought MLB to this city and all the beauty that comes with it. The crack of the bat, the snap of a mitt, the green of the diamond, and the teams we may never see again here in the Marlins, the Astros, and the Yankees.
When we last watched young Vladdy Jr. in 2018 and 2019 in his bright red Bisons jersey he was the number one prospect in baseball.
Last night was about the young phenom with the Hall of Fame father. When we last watched young Vladdy Jr. in 2018 and 2019 in his bright red Bisons jersey he was the number one prospect in baseball. Last night in his homecoming in front of the denizens of Buffalo he burned bright. Going 4-4 at the plate he brought his average to .337 which tied him for third in the league. In the third inning he brought the crowd to its feet, launching his league-leading 17th home run of the season to left center, giving the Jays a 3-0 lead.
Buffalo, come to the ballpark this summer and watch what was being built here over the past few summers. These Jays are a fun young group of players and the franchise has made it easy to come watch at Washington and Swan. Seating is available for both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated Buffalonians, and the beer from “Conehead” is just as cold whether you have had your shot or not. The experience of entering the park and seating was top notch. Easy lines lead into the stadium and no test is required to sit in the unvaccinated area. The chances to attend can be had by all as the Jays will be selling each homestand individually.
It was hard to look around the stadium and not feel a sense of civic pride. The stadium sat in the shadow of the beautifully remodeled and repainted One Seneca Tower. Sahlen Field itself has been redone in blue for the Jays and has new grass along with bullpens that are no longer in the field of play but beyond the right field wall. Countless Blue Jays caps and jerseys were worn by many, but they did not outnumber the Bills, Sabres, and Bisons attire. As the Jays came to the plate throughout the evening the “Shout” song broke out along with the cries of MVP for our adopted son of summer in Vladdy Jr.
As the Jays came to the plate throughout the evening the ‘Shout’ song broke out along with the cries of MVP for our adopted son of summer in Vladdy Jr.
As we cruised through the 8th inning, the Jays struck out the side to preserve the 4-1 lead. Another former Bison added his magic to the night as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. sent a ball over the fence for a seemingly safe 5-1 lead. One more former Bison had a role to play in this game as Jordan Romano came in in the 9th to lock it down and secure the win for us “fanatics.” Baseball can be fickle as he quickly ran into trouble and before we knew it the bases were loaded and the tying run was at the plate.
For the final time last night, we rose as One Buffalo to cheer our adopted Jays. Had the Magic of Roy Hobbs and The Natural come to Sahlen Field for the evening? The crowd noise sounded like 50,000 and not 5,000. The stage was set, the count was 3-2, bases loaded with two out, a fan’s dream. Romano reared back and threw his 23rd pitch of the night, an 88 mph slider to Jose Devers. As the baseball gods smiled upon us, he swung away like the mighty Casey for strike three. It was perfect!
Lead image: The Author and Jimmy Griffin who was instrumental in bringing baseball back to Buffalo