It was excitement and disappointment all wrapped in one neat package.
The 2013 season for the Buffalo Bisons brought a series of highs and lows – a hot streak to start the season, a slide to 10 games out of first place, and a resurgence just in time to make a serious run at a playoff spot.
Enter disappointment again as the Bisons ended up losing a chunk of their lineup, including the starting outfield, to the Toronto Blue Jays in August as the parent club suffered a series of injuries.
The Herd hung in as best they could, but failed to reach the playoffs. But it was the first time the club had played meaningful baseball in August since 2007. The Herd was eliminated from the playoff race six years ago in Game No. 143. This year they made it Game No. 142.
“At the beginning of the year, we said we wanted to be playing meaningful baseball at the end of the season and we did that,” Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski said. “The last home game, we were still in the race. Hopefully we make the playoffs next year. Hopefully the Jays stay healthy next year.”
All those call-ups hurt Buffalo’s chances at making the playoffs for the first time since 2005 but didn’t quash the excitement, or skew the big-picture view of the Bisons’ part in the greater Blue Jays organization.
The call-ups are “what we’re here for in some ways,” Bisons manager Marty Brown said on Fan Appreciation Night. “But it doesn’t sell winning lightly in Buffalo or at this level in general. This is a year we’re trying to find out where we’re at and what we’re doing. It’s turned into that with all the injuries at the major-league level. Our young guys have responded well to their challenges up there and they have plenty of time the rest of the way to learn a lot.”
Among the former Bisons up with the Jays are Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, Moises Sierra and Ryan Goins.
But with Toronto’s injuries and its desire to try to be a World Series contender this season, Brown had to work to manage not just talent on the field but chemistry in the clubhouse.
“For me in Triple-A, I’ve learned over the years that it’s really important to have good leadership in your manager and Marty Brown has done another exceptional job for us,” Buczkowski said. “He understands the ins and outs of Triple-A baseball and dealing with players on their way up or on their way down, if they’re off the roster or added to the roster. He keeps everyone focused and that’s not always easy especially with a veteran club like we had. Marty did a fantastic job.”
But Brown admits that it was an educational year for him as well, learning how to better deal with the next generation of baseball players.
“I’ve probably learned more this year than any other year I’ve managed because of the challenges,” Brown said. “There’s a different mentality now, a different era of player. This generation is different, man. There’s more entitlement, a lot different than when I played or even the early part of my managing career.
“There was less media in general, no social media. Now there’s Facebook, Twitter, all that kind of thing. Information is rampant. Players can lose respect for your title at this level because of all that. ... That’s why it’s so critical to have the communication we have with the front office. That’s been good.”
The Bisons certainly would love to have Brown back next year and the manager would love to return.
There’s no indication that a change is coming, but Toronto structures its minor league contracts on a one-year basis expiring on Dec. 31.
No one expects an announcement on a new contract for Brown until early 2014.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of opportunity for the Bisons and Blue Jays to get to work off the field marketing the team. The Bisons saw an increased of 12.25 percent in attendance – the biggest increase since the park opened 26 years ago.
Clearly the affiliation change helped the Herd on and off the field.
“We expected it to be good, but it has exceeded those expectations,” Buczkowski said.
“I always start with our season-ticket holders and they enjoyed seeing a competitive team that hustles and plays hard. From the standpoint of the fans coming from Canada, they loved the ballpark,” Buczkowski said. “A lot of them had never been here before and they can’t believe how nice the ballpark is. A number of them stayed in Buffalo and I heard great comments about downtown. It wasn’t only great for the Bisons but for our region.”
As for offseason changes, expect a new state-of-the-art sound system to finish being installed for next year’s season opener on April 3.
Also in the offseason, look for the Toronto Blue Jays caravan to possibly make a Buffalo stop and more cross-promotional opportunities for fans in Buffalo.