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Stroman named Bisons Opening Day Pitcher

by Amy Moritz

The Buffalo Bisons headed back to Western New York Monday after breaking spring training camp in Florida. And the first order of business was completed -- set the Opening Day roster.

Manager Gary Allenson named righty Marcus Stroman as the Herd's Opening Day starter. The Bisons begin the season at 2:05 p.m. Thursday against the Rochester Red Wings at Coca-Cola Field.

The 22-year-old Stroman is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization by Baseball America. He begins his third professional season after being selected by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Last season, Stroman went 9-5 with a 3.30 earned run average in 20 games for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Casts.

The Opening Day roster for the Herd (pending any call-ups to Toronto, which opened its season on Monday), features 17 players with Major League experience.

Stroman leads a deep pitching staff that includes lefty Sean Nolin, righty Kyle Drabek, lefty Ricky Romero and righty Liam Hendriks in the starting rotation.

The bullpen is anchored by closer Neil Wagner along with Josh Stilson, Mickey Storey, Chad Jenkins, Marcus Walden, Rob Rasmussen and Ryan Tepera.

Kevin Pillar, the No. 20th rated prospect, returns to the Bisons. He won the Blue Jays' Webster Award for 2013, presented to the club's top minor league player. Pillar made his big league debut last season after batting .200 with 27 extra-base hits in 52 games with the Bisons last season.

Also returning to the outfield is Anthony Gose who led the heard with 64 runs scored and five triples. The outfield includes Matt Tuiasosopo, Brett Carroll and Ricardo Nanita.

Dan Johnson will make his Bisons debut in the infield and was the International League MVP in 2010. He has 20 or more home runs four times in the IL.

Andy LaRoche returns after driving in 51 runs for the Herd last season while Munenori Kawaski returns at shortstop.

Chris Getz spent most of last season with the Kansas City Royals while the infield will also feature Jared Goedert and Jonathan Diaz.

Cathcer Mike Nickeas will play in his sixth straight season with the Bisons, tying a modern era record set by Jason Cooper. Jack Murphy will make his Triple-A debtu behidn the plate. He hit 11 doubles and drove in 22 runs in 56 games for New Hamsphire last year.

It's MLB Preview Day: All the links to our coverage

By Mike Harrington

Our annual MLB Preview is in today's newspaper and the print edition features some great photos and graphics under the direction of design director Vince Chiaramonte, as well as a terrific cover illustration from Daniel Zakroczemski on the Yankees once again going all-in with their style of Moneyball.

Here are links to all of our coverage from today's paper (And be sure to look for our Bisons season preview in Wednesday's editions in advance of Thursday's season opener in Coca-Cola Field):

Jerry Sullivan on the Bronx Bombers: "Baseball is always more fun when the Bronx Bombers are spending like sailors and rattling the cages of the other owner"

My Preseason MLB Power Rankings: The defending champion Red Sox  get to start on top but it might be a capital offense if you don't read this story. That might give you a hint who I like come October. 

Bucky Gleason's view: There's peace in the game as we head into Derek Jeter's final season.

Jay Skurski's Fantasy report:  Watch out when picking third basemen or shortstops.

Greg Connors' Mixed Media: A data journalist speaks on analytics.

Sullivan's preseason picks

Harrington's preseason picks

Ex-Bisons GM Billoni proposes prayer for Kelly at noon on Sunday

By Mike Harrington

Mike Billoni, the former Bisons general manager and current public & community relations director at the Food Bank of WNY, is spreading this message via various social media accounts regarding Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. The heartfelt words of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer are certainly worth a read.

"Twenty-one years ago when I was the Vice President/General Manager of the Buffalo Bisons professional baseball team, Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly came into my hospital room at ECMC with an official game ball that the players had voted on for me after their win at Rich Stadium the day before. I was in serious pain after 17 hours of surgery in the trauma unit after my near fatal bicycle accident in Canada.

"Jim said to me, 'Continue to pray and Positive Thoughts Equal Positive Results' -- a mantra I have followed throughout my life. Now, 21 years later, I am proof the power of prayer works. Now, we all must get behind our beloved Hall of Fame quarterback and pray that chemotherapy and radiation treatments can sack his cancer.

"I have an idea.

"Can you all join me in spreading the word that at 12 noon on Sunday, March 30, I would like everyone to stop what they are doing for a moment of prayer for Jim Kelly?

"Imagine, if everyone could send this message to everyone you know, we could possibly get the entire world to stop and say a prayer for JK at noon on Sunday.

"Thank You.

"Mike Billoni

"P.S. RIP Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.--you will be missed."

Video: White Sox unveil wild ballpark food offerings

By Mike Harrington

I know plenty of people heading to Wrigley Field in Chicago this summer to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Friendly Confines (True confessions: I'm one of them). But it seems like a detour to U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the White Sox, should also be in order based on the calorie-busting items being served this summer.

Here's the team's story on the new offerings. Mac and cheese as a hamburger topping and chicken and waffles fir everybody!

Watch this CSN Chicago video to see some of the outrageous new food items being served on the South Side this season.

Peace Bridge to light up in honor of Bisons' opener, now just a week away at Coca-Cola Field

By Mike Harrington

We're exactly one week away from the Buffalo Bisons' home and season opener in Coca-Cola Field, the April 3 matchup with the Rochester Red Wings that is scheduled for a 2:05 first pitch.

The team seems to be getting a break on the weather. The long-range forecast looks palatable for the opener, with a high of 48 currently listed for next Thursday and only a 30 percent chance of rain. 

The team's equipment truck is scheduled to arrive from the Blue Jays' spring home in Dunedin, Fla., on Monday and the first workout in Buffalo under new manager Gary Allenson is Tuesday afternoon. The team will also workout Wednesday afternoon. The sessions are not open to the public.

Starting Wednesday night at 9 p.m. and stretching until Thursday morning at 1 a.m, the Peace Bridge will be illuminated to celebrate the return of baseball to the region and the binational partnership between the Bisons and Blue Jays. The lights will alternate between Bisons red and Blue Jays blue.

This is the second straight year the Peace Bridge has been lit in support of the Bisons/Blue Jays partnership. The Peace Bridge Authority and Bisons will once again work together on a number of promotional and marketing ventures to promote cross-border travel to Coca-Cola Field.

Bisons' statement on Ralph Wilson

By Mike Harrington

The Buffalo Bisons have issued the following statement on the death of Ralph Wilson:

"The Buffalo Bisons organization and family extends our deepest heartfelt sympathies to everyone within the Buffalo Bills family over the passing of team owner and Western New York sports icon Ralph Wilson. Mr. Wilson has meant so much to our sporting community and his leadership and dedication to the greatest sports fans in the country is something that will surely be missed. A great advocate of Buffalo sports, we are deeply saddened to hear of his passing."

Bisons' rotation taking shape as Blue Jays make some minor-league assignments

By Mike Harrington

The Buffalo Bisons' strength out of the gate in 2014 is going to be the starting rotation and that's an easy call for any modest observer of the Toronto Blue Jays' system. Things started to crystallize Sunday as the Jays sent lefty Sean Nolin and righties Kyle Drabek and Chad Jenkins to their minor-league camp to get them ready to open the season with the Herd.

Nolin, 24, spent most of last season with Double-A New Hampshire and was 8-3, 3.01 in 17 starts while pitching for new Bisons manager Gary Allenson. Nolin was named an Eastern League mid-season all-star and earned an August promotion to the Bisons (1-1, 1.53 in three starts).

Drabek, 26, spent 2013 on the mend from Tommy John surgery that he had in 2012. He reached Buffalo in mid-August and 1-2, 3.77 in four games (three starts).  Drabek was then promoted to the Blue Jays,  where he allowed two runs in three relief appearances. Drabek was 4-7, 4.67 in 13 starts for the Blue Jays in 2012 before suffering his elbow injury during a June start against Washington.

Jenkins, 26, pitched for New Hampshire, Toronto and the Bisons last season. He was 1-0, 2.70 in 33.1 innings for the Blue Jays while going 0-3, 7.48 in five June starts for Buffalo. 

The biggest prize awaiting the Bisons is top Toronto prospect Marcus Stroman, the Jays' No. 1 pick in 2012. He remains in big-league camp fighting for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Stroman went 9-5, 3.30 in 20 starts last year at New Hampshire. 

The Bisons will likely have their first workout in Buffalo on April 1. The home and season opener is April 3 at 2:05 against Rochester in Coca-Cola Field.

Classic video rant: Olbermann eviscerates Bonds

By Mike Harrington

You can say anything you want about Keith Olbermann and you would probably have a point. But the one thing you can't argue is the guy is passionate about baseball. He's written some interesting essays and blogs for MLB.com and you have to watch this commentary he unleashed this week on ESPN2 about Barry Bonds' return to the Giants as a spring training instructor and how the team has "sanitized" his history.

Olbermann pretty much eviscerates Bonds. And even if you think some of it is over the top, it's surely entertaining.

Some samples:

---The Giants are acting "as if he were one of baseball's most noble assets and not the symbol of its worst crisis and darkest time since the Black Sox scandal."

---"You cheated the game. You dishonored the game. The game has been better off with you forgotten, with you in the wilderness, with your statistics as meaningful as video game numbers."

---"Barry Bonds is a liar, a cheat, a shame to this sport and all sports and to this country. That the San Francisco Giants, an otherwise enlightened organization that cherishes its history and its reputation, should not merely embrace this pariah, but pave over his self-disqualifying dishonesty, is incomprehensible."

Watch the whole diatribe here. Quite entertaining.

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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