Greetings from Coca-Cola Field as the Bisons get set to open the 2011 season against the Syracuse Chiefs on a beautiful sun-splashed afternoon. After the cold winter -- and after the snow we dealt with during Tuesday's workout -- you couldn't ask for a better day.
This is the 24th home opener downtown, incredible as that may seem. The ballpark opened on April 14, 1988 with that memorable 1-0 Bisons win over Denver and the Herd is 14-9 in home openers. I have missed only one (the 2003 win over Pawtucket played on a 29-degree day while I was covering Syracuse in the Final Four at New Orleans), and am proud and fortunate to say this will be my 19th home opener in the captain's chair of Buffalo News coverage.
The pregame ceremonies today will be fun. I've already had a sneak peek that I'm sworn to secrecy about. Fans will be incredibly impressed by the new video board. If you've missed it either here on the blog or earlier today on our home page, go to this link for our video presentation on what's new at the ballpark.
Keep it here all day for some thoughts from the game. The first pitch is scheduled for 3:05 but might come a few minutes after. Here are the starting lineups:
Syracusw (Washington): Boomer Whiting, lf; Brian Bixler, 3b; Jeff Frazier, rf; Chris Marrero, 1b; Jesus Flores, c; Seth Bynum, 2b; Corey Brown, cf; Chris McConnell, ss; Yunesky Maya, p
Buffalo (NY Mets): Jason Pridie, lf; Justin Turner, 2b; Fernando Martinez, rf; Nick Evans, 1b; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, cf; Zach Lutz, 3b; Ruben Tejada, ss; Raul Chavez, c; Dillon Gee, p
Pregame: The BisonsTV HD Board is unveiled with a neat twist. An electronic mockup of the old board appeared and was "blown up" to reveal the new look. And it is fabulous. Then the team showed a terrific timelapse video of the contstruction involving the board, field and light standards. Neat.
The Bisons are wearing their new Mets-style pinstripe alternate tops -- which I think should be their permanent tops. Workers involved with the offseason renovations threw ceremonial first pitches.
3:07 p.m.: Dillon Gee's first pitch of the season to Boomer Whiting is a called strike. The temperature is 50 degrees. We are under way.
Mid-1st: Gee retires the Chiefs in order, striking out Frazier for the final out. His first of the season -- 164 to go to equal last year.
End-1st: The Bisons' first hit of the season is an infield single by Martinez. He goes to second on a single to left-center by Evans but the runners are left on as Nieuwenhuis flies to left.
Mid-2nd: It's six up-six down for Gee. But he got huge help as Pridie made a diving catch in left-center on Flores' liner. Pridie played a great center field last year before hamstring trouble ended his season after just 40 games. Hammy looked fine there.
End-2nd: It's zip-zip through two. The Bisons got Tejada to third with two out after a one-out single, a grounder and a balk. But Gee was retired on a looper to right to end the threat.
End-3rd: More of the same. Gee is perfect through three. FMart is 2 for 2 after pulling a double to right but Evans left him on by striking out. Herd is 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position.
Mid-4th: Gee blows up in a four-run fourth that gives the Chiefs the lead. Whiting walked on a 3-2 pitch for Syracuse's first baserunner. Frazier singled with one out but Marrero popped out for the second out. Gee was a pitch away from geting out of the inning but Flores lined a low fastball on a 2-2 count for an RBI single. Bynum fell behind, 1-2, and cracked another fastball deep to left for a three-run bomb. Chiefs lead, 4-0.
End-4th: The Bisons' first run of the season was a screaming solo HR to right by Nieuwenhuis leading off the inning. Chiefs lead, 4-1.
Mid-5th: This is ugly. Four more Syracuse runs, three unearned after a Tejada error on a grounder to short. Bynum with a two-run double down the 3B line to give him five RBIs on the day. Gee out with a final line of 4 2/3 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K...ERA: 9.64. Yikes. Chiefs lead, 8-1.
End-5th: It's a day for two-out hits. The Bisons just got two of them to produce four runs. Zach Lutz lined an RBI single and Tejada made up for his error with a three-run triple to the gap in right-center. Chiefs lead, 8-5, and 11 of the runs are with two out. After the inning, we debut the Chicken Wing Race. The wing bested Bleu Cheese and Celery. But Buster Bison chased the wing off the field with a fryer basket. Eat your heart out pierogis and sausages.
End-6th: Chiefs hold their 8-5 lead.
End-8th: Time's a-wasting as the Herd is down to the final three outs and still down, 8-5.
It's over: The Chiefs hold on for an 8-5 win. The Bisons got one-out singles in the ninth from Turner and Martinez -- who was 4 for 5 in the game -- but Evans struck out and Syracuse's Josh Wikie came on to face Nieuwenhuis. Wilkie uncorked a 2-2 wild pitch to move the runners up but got Nieuwenhuis on a slow roller to short for the final out.
Syracuse 8 6 1
Buffalo 5 10 1