Nearly five months after it began with a 12-7 win over Rochester that triumphantly opened the Toronto Blue Jays era in Buffalo, the Bisons' home schedule will end tonight against the same Red Wings.
The promise of April has turned into the dashed dreams of August, as a loss tonight will eliminate the Bisons from contention for the International League wild-card and give them eight straight years without a playoff berth.
Still, there's a good feeling around the ballpark as "Thank You" is painted in foul territory behind first and third bases in a salute to the fans as you see in the photo above (h/t Twitter feed of Amy Moritz). The crowd tonight should be at least 15,000 and perhaps even more, so it will be interesting to calculate the attendance bump the team got from its new affiliation and from fans crossing the Peace Bridge who had otherwise never ventured here before.
"I think they really enjoyed the atmosphere here in the ballpark and seeing the young players and now they get to see them in Toronto too," manager Marty Brown told me before the game. "We've gotten an even bigger response from Canadian fans than we've even imagined, the way they've enjoyed themselves. And I think it's only going to get better."
The playoff race: It's just about toast but for the record Norfolk is 74-64 heading into its game tonight at Charlotte. Rochester (74-65) is a half-game back while Lehigh Valley (71-68, going into a game at Scranton) is 3 1/2 out and the Bisons (70-69) are 4 1/2 back.
Moving on up: Brown said he was thrilled to read reports and watch video of his former players helping the Blue Jays take two of three games from the Yankees this week. Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra and Ryan Goins have all made big contributions and be sure to read my post from earlier today about Gose and Goins combining to nail Alex Rodriguez at the plate last night.
"They're young, energetic and extremely talented guys and it doesn't surprise me at all the way they went about their jobs here that they're having success up there," Brown said. "It's nice to see. That's why I still do this job. It's great, a big part of it."
Transactions: Chien-Ming Wang has cleared waivers and returned to Buffalo while catcher Jack Murphy has been promoted from Double-A New Hampshire. Catcher A.J. Jimenez has been placed on the temporary inactive list with elbow irritation and pitcher Tommy Hottovy has gone on the disabled list.
Tonight's activities: The team's end-of-season awards have been presented prior to the game tonight and the winners are Mauro Gomez-Stan Barron MVP; Justin Germano-Warren Spahn Most Valuable Pitcher; Chien-Ming Wang-Comeback Player of the Year; Mike Nickeas-Inspirational; Jim Negrych-Hometown Hero; Anthony Gose-Community Service. The Fan of the Year is Mike Klein, a longtime season ticket holder in Section 113.
Mike McCoy, ss
Blake Gailen, lf
Mauro Gomez, 1b
Clint Robinson, dh
Andy LaRoche, 3b
Ryan Langerhans, cf
Brad Glenn, rf
Jim Negrych, 2b
Mike Nickeas, c
Sean Nolin, p