You can carve a place for the 2000 home opener in Buffalo baseball lore.
Few will remember the final score (the Bisons beat the Ottawa Lynx, 6-2, to improve their record to 4-0). Or the game-time temperature (38 degrees and falling fast through the afternoon).
The lasting images to the opening of a new century at Dunn Tire Park will be of snow -- lots of it.
There was three inches on the field a few hours before the first pitch. Virtually all of the team's front office staff -- regardless of their normal duties -- joined the grounds crew in grabbing brooms and pushing the snow off the outfield grass so the game could be played.
By 1 p.m., two hours before the first pitch, the skies were sunny and the field was clear. But the clouds started returning. By the third inning, the snow was falling again. In the fifth, the players were enveloped by a nasty squall that eventually forced a 42-minute delay.
Regulars can wax poetic about all the cold days and nights they've endured downtown since the park opened in 1988. But not since the third day of the stadium's existence, a Saturday afternoon game against the old Denver Zephyrs during that first '88 homestand, have the snowflakes flown as they did Wednesday.
Batters routinely stepped out of the box as snowflakes got in their eyes while they were trying to look to the mound. By the time Chan Perry came to the plate with two on and two out in the Buffalo fifth, it was simply a matter of survival. The snow was swirling and Ottawa center fielder Milton Bradley was barely visible from the press box.
"That's the toughest at-bat I've ever had in my life," Perry said. "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."
"That goes back a long time for me," said new manager Joel Skinner. "The last time I saw snow like that was a day in Denver (where Skinner played Triple-A ball in the White Sox chain in 1983 and 1984). We started out in sunshine and short sleeves and by the seventh inning it was snowing like that or harder without any forecast of it."
The stadium's message board, normally used to register velocity of pitches, poked fun at the situation with the notation "Speed of the Snow -- 35 mph."
Players resorted to all manner of winter gear to survive the elements. Buffalo center fielder Jolbert Cabrera, for example, took the field for the starting lineups in a full ski mask. Bill Selby, not liking the restrictions of extra gear on his arm, played right field in shirtsleeves until the snow hit.
"For five innings I was a tough guy but after that I couldn't do it anymore," Selby said sheepishly.
It was tough to be in the crowd, too. There were 13,039 tickets sold for the game, but the snow and cold held the in-house count to about 2,000. Only about 200 stayed to the bitter end.
Despite the horrendous weather that has prevented them from taking batting or infield practice prior to any game thus far, the Bisons are off to their best start since the 1989 club opened 5-0. The Herd has yet to trail at any point in the four games.
"We have professionals on this team," Perry said. "We've played in about as bad conditions as you can play in. We all talk about how cold it is, but when it's time to step on that field, it's time to do a job. And we've done it. That's all you can ask."
The Bisons hit three opposite-field home runs to left field Wednesday: Selby's two-run shot in the first and leadoff drives by Mark Whiten in the fourth and Russell Branyan in the seventh. Buffalo is 9-4 in Dunn openers.
The Bisons are batting an IL-best .333 and averaging 8.5 runs. They have a 3.81 team earned-run average. They're moving runners along and playing solid defense."For the most part, you're just up there going, 'God, if we could stay warm for this at-bat,' " Selby said. "When you get out, you run back to the dugout and get in front of the heater. It's good to be winning while things are so messed up."