All Mike Hessman has done in a minor-league career that dates to 1996 is hit home runs. In pretty much every stop he's made. Eleven stops in the minors -- including 18 longballs in 64 games for the Bisons in 2010 -- as well as three stops in the majors (Atlanta, Detroit, New York Mets) and even 48 games in Japan in 2011.
MILB.com has been keeping this rotating graphic of Hessman's power numbers and now has it updated with No. 400. Here's the video of the shot, with the call by Rochester announcer Josh Whetzel, who is also the voice of University at Buffalo basketball.
(Memo to the Rochester TV crew: Whetzel is word-picturing a great scene of teammates congratulating Hessman and Red Wings fans standing and applauding behind the dugout and you missed all of it showing replays of him jogging around the bases. Just plain terrible. You gotta be better.)
Now Hessman has another quest: He has 255 career home runs in the International League -- just three shy of all league's all-time record of 258 set by Bisons legend Ollie Carnegie (1931-41, 1945). Carnegie is one of just three players to have his number retired on the left-field wall at Coca-Cola Field.
Hessman has 12 games to go before a four-game set in Buffalo between the Bisons and Mud Hens opens here June 3. He might already have the record by then, but it would make for a pretty interesting backdrop if he was on the verge of it when he hit town. Bears watching.
ST. LOUIS -- I won't be at Coca-Cola Field today as I'm here in the shadow of the Gateway Arch chasing Ryan Miller and Jake McCabe in the same downtown where I spent plenty of time last October. I'm also apparently going to be dodging tornadoes all day too. Yeesh.
Much better back home for today's Bisons home opener, which will be just the second one in Coca-Cola Field's 27 seasons that I have missed. Strangely enough, the other one was also on April 3 -- in 2003, while I was covering Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse in the Final Four with New Orleans.
The Bisons are 16-10 in CCF openers and have won three of the last four. Amazingly enough, they have scored 12 runs in each of the last two home openers, posting a 12-3 win over Scranton in 2012 in their final year as a Mets affiliate and a 12-7 win last year over Rochester in their debut with the Blue Jays. That's some un-Sabres-like offense there!
Those games were certainly fun and there's been plenty of good moments in the curtain-raisers downtown. Here's a quick flip through my mind of some of the most interesting moments, with links to stories. (No link to the first one, unfortunately, as our electronic system dates to 1989).
April 14, 1988 -- Buffalo 1, Denver 0. There is no other comparison. The parade, the ceremonies on Swan Street, the first pitch, the home run by Tom Prince, the near no-hitter by Bob Patterson. We will never feel the way we did that day. Somebody, bless your heart, has a great YouTube posted of it all. Relive it here.
April 8, 1993 -- Buffalo 8, Omaha 1. It was my first opener as the paper's No. 1 beat writer covering the team and the first year I went to spring training. I reveled in 80-degree weather in Florida and it was perfect here too. It was 76 and sunny. Best weather day we've ever had for an opener.
April 10, 1998 -- Buffalo 4, Rochester 0. The Herd's return to the International League was delayed a day by rain and so was the team's 1997 American Association championship banner ceremony but the game was just about perfect. Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famers Torey Lovullo and Richie Sexson both homered.
April 12, 2000 -- Buffalo 6, Ottawa 2. An otherwise nondescript game is made memorable by a 42-minute delay in the fifth inning when a heavy snow squall hits the ballpark while Chan Perry is trying to bat. "I had two snowflakes hit me in the eye in five pitches," Perry said. "It was just like you had five million mosquitoes or gnats, whatever you want to choose, coming straight at your face. It was horrible."
April 11, 2008 -- Toledo 4, Buffalo 1. A rainy and warm Friday night is made more significant by the fact the Cleveland Indians announce they're not discussing an extension of the working agreement until after the season. It pretty much sealed the fact they were leaving for Columbus after the season.
Talking out loud about MLB's announcements today from the Biogenesis scandal ...
A-Rod: He reportedly infuriated Bud Selig with his comments Friday night in Trenton that there was a "pink elephant" in the room and it was the fact that MLB and the Yankees were conspiring to keep him off the field, with the Yankees most interested in getting out of his contract. The Commish then shut town all talks of a settlement, with ARod contending he should be no more penalized than Ryan Braun. We'll see about that.
On the field, the Yankees can use A-Rod, even at less than 100 percent. He's still going to be far more productive than anyone they've had at third base all year. But if he stays on the field for any length of time, how will they deal with the daily fan and media circus on the road? And what will be the reaction when A-Rod steps on the field in the Bronx?
Selig knew he couldn't go for a lifetime ban, and that the union would have to defend A-Rod on simple due process if he did. So he went for a suspension through the Joint Drug Policy, which allows for the appeal. That should be heard within the next three weeks or so.
A-Rod is trying to maximize the money he can make by staying on the field but I'm betting this carries into 2015 -- not 2014 -- before it's all done. He's never failed a test and this is more about obstruction of MLB's investigation. It seems more personal than ever between A-Rod and Selig, much like it was at the end between Bart Giamatti and Pete Rose in 1989.
The Commish: Selig wants his legacy to be about 1). Getting rid of PEDs from baseball; 2) adding the wild-card to get more cities interested deeper into the season; and 3) fixing the All-Star Game after the 2002 tie fiasco. He's looking at retirement in the next two years and it's interesting that the PED situation became such a focus, given the way baseball was complicit in it through the McGwire-Sosa home run chase of 1998. Better late than never, I suppose.
Harvey, the former Bisons ace, is off to an incredible start with a 1.55 ERA in nine starts and 68 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. Not to mention a Sports Illustrated cover.
Plenty of Mets fans got chafed last week -- not that it's tough for them to get that way as I learned the last four years -- when I talked about the SI cover after Harvey gave up two runs in the first inning at Wrigley Field. He ended up retiring 20 of the next 21 batters and getting his fifth win.
There's huge New York City hype, no shock given there's basically nothing else to talk about with the Mets. Anyone talking about 23-year-old Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin (7-0, 1.44)? Nope. But as great as Harvey's start has been, the fact remains he needs to start proving himself against better teams and today will be an interesting barometer.
Matt Harvey's rapid ascent in baseball circles continued today as the New York Mets right-hander was named National League Pitcher of the Month for April.
Harvey, 24, went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and 46 strikeouts in six April games. His four wins tied for the NL lead, while his ERA ranked third and the strikeouts tied for fourth.
Harvey became the first MLB pitcher since 1900 to win his first four starts of the season while allowing no more than 10 hits combined in them. In a huge statistical oddity, Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore became the second pitcher to accomplish the feat the following week.
I was at the Sabres game Sunday night and I've already heard from a few people with sloshed DVRs from the Masters playoff, so I'm helping you all out here as a public service (heh). Blue Jays and ex-Bisons knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was the subject of a long feature on last night's edition of "60 Minutes" and, as usual, with baseball's biggest renaissance man, the piece was pretty interesting.
It didn't break a lot of new ground if you've followed Dickey's story closely over the last three years but it's all here. The breakthrough as a knuckleballer, his sexual abuse, his struggles in his marriage, the trade from the Mets. All of it.
Click the files below to see the piece (it's 13 1/2 minutes) and to see the online-only "60 Minutes Overtime", which talks about Dickey's lowest moments and suicidal thoughts. Pretty riveting stuff.
Mets pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia will don a Buffalo Bisons uniform for the first time in more than a year tonight as he continues to make his way back from Tommy John surgery.
Mejia's comeback hits the Triple-A level after four comeback starts, two at Class A St. Lucie and two at Double-A Binghamton. He's gone at least five innings but no more than six in four of those startsq.
Mejia left Buffalo's April 29, 2011 game at Rochester after four innings upon experiencing discomfort in his right elbow. He was diagnosed with a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament and underwent surgery three weeks later. The 22-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic entered 2011 as the organization's top-rated prospect by Baseball America.
This is the third game of the four-game set with Columbus, with the Bisons having won the first two. The series concludes at 10:35 tomorrow morning.
Ezequiel Carrera, cf
Jason Donald, ss
Cord Phelps, 2b
Matt LaPorta, lf
Jared Goedert, rf
Russ Canzler, 1b
Beau Mills, dh
Andy LaRoche, 3b
Matt Pagnozzi, c
David Huff, p (3-1, 3.08)
Corey Wimberly, cf
Josh Thole, dh
Valentino Pascucci, rf
Fred Lewis, lf
Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b
Josh Satin, 1b
Brad Emaus, 2b
Lucas May, c
Sean Kazmar, ss
Jenrry Mejia, p (0-0, 0.00)
Columbus is in town for a four-game series that opens at 2 this afternoon. The Clippers (Cleveland) have won three straight to improve to 5-5 in their last 10. The Bisons also are playing .500 ball over that stretch.
Ezequiel Carrera, cf
Jason Donald, ss
Cord Phelps, 2b
Matt LaPorta, dh
Jared Goedert, lf
Chad Huffman, rf
Russ Canzler, 1b
Andy LaRoche, 3b
Matt Pagnozzi, c
Zach McAllister, p (3-1, 2.83)
Corey Wimberly, cf
Fred Lewis, lf
Valentino Pascucci, dh
Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b
Josh Satin, 1b
Jordany Valdespin, 2b
Lucas May, c
Dustin Martin, rf
Omar Quintanilla, ss
Dylan Owen, p (2-2, 3.19)
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees took batting practice first. They're listed on the bottom of the scoreboard and the Bisons are on top of the lineup card (left, click for bigger view).
Things are going to be upside down at Coca-Cola Field the next four games as the Bisons play "road" games against Scranton. So among other things, as I wrote in this morning's story, the Herd could be walkoff losers in their own park because of Scranton's stadium reconstruction that's forcing them to play the entire season on the road.
Be sure to see Friday's paper for a more in-depth look at the Scranton situation, including some comments I got from manager Dave Miley prior to batting practice today.
As for tonight's game, Mets mega prospect Matt Harvey is on the mound for Buffalo trying to improve upon his 4-1 record. Harvey is 2-0, 3.68 in four May starts, striking out 25 and walking 10 in 22 innings. Here are tonight's lineups (remember, Bisons batting first):
Buffalo Corey Wimberly, cf Fred Lewis, lf Josh Satin, 1b Valentino Pascucci, dh Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b Jordany Valdespin, 2b Lucas May, c Dustin Martin, rf Omar Quintanilla, ss --- Matt Harvey, p
Scranton/WB Kevin Russo, cf Matt Antonelli, 2b Steve Pearce, 1b Jack Cust, dh Ronnier Mustelier, lf Brandon Laird, 3b Francisco Cervelli, c Cole Garner, rf Ramiro Pena, ss --- Adam Warren, p
Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Collins continues to do a terrific job with the Mets -- and continues to get plenty of contributions from players mined in his old stomping grounds.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the Bisons' Opening Day center fielder, was nearly the National League's Rookie of the Month in April. Jordany Valdespin, the Opening Day second baseman for the Herd who moved to the outfield for most of the season's first month, made a huge impact with his first big-league hit Monday night.
Here's Valdespin and Collins chatting postgame with SNY:
Valdespin had been sent back to the Bisons and called up a day later when Ruben Tejada was injured Sunday against Arizona. Tejada will be out a couple of weeks and Valdespin is scheduled to start at short for the Mets tonight.
The Bisons, meanwhile, opened a new series with a 4-3 win at Gwinnett. The Herd is 18-13, one game out of first place, while the Mets are 16-13 and currently hold the second National League wild-card.
While getting ready for tonight's Sabres-Penguins game, I can give you some news on the Bisons as it looks like their roster is just about set. Here's a quick rundown:
---We're less than six days from the season opener, next Thursday in Pawtucket. The home opener is April 11 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The team will convene in Buffalo for a workout and media session Tuesday in Coca-Cola Field (closed to the public).
---Adam Rubin at ESPNNY.com reports the rotation will include Harvey and Familia as well as holdover Chris Schwinden (8-8, 3.95 in 26 starts for Buffalo last season) and free-agent signees Garrett Olson and Jeremy Hefner.
---The Mets' cuts this week also give you some insight on the Bisons' lineup: Free agents Rob Johnson and Lucas May will share the catching duties. The infield will include the likes of Reese Havens at second, Jordany Valdespin at short, Zach Lutz at third and perhaps Josh Satin in a utility role along with veteran Vinny Rottino. There's also free-agent signee Matt Tuiasosopo and Josh Rodriguez, just signed by the Mets on Thursday.
---Sorting out bullpen roles seems like it will be the big issue in the early going for Backman. Not many young prospects there. More of the veteran free-agent type, with the only familiar name being former Cleveland prospect Fernando Cabrera, who pitched here from 2004-2006.
---The Bisons are 1-4-3 this spring and continue their schedule Friday with a game against Memphis in Jupiter, Fla. On Saturday, they'll take a detour to Vero Beach to the old Dodgertown complex to meet New Orleans and wrap things up Sunday in at the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie against Memphis.
New Bisons manager Wally Backman, the longtime former Mets second baseman, wore his heart on his sleeve Thursday night -- and said he will wear it on his back next season -- in the wake of the news of the death of Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter.
Backman's No. 6 is retired in Buffalo for Ollie Carnegie so he was going to flip it and wear No. 9. Instead, he's going to don Carter's No. 8.
"It's for Gary," Backman said. "Gary was ... If I had an idol as a player I played with, Gary would definitely be one of them. Without question. In remembering Gary, I'm going to wear 8 until somebody tells me I can't wear it."
Backman told plenty of Carter stories to the couple hundred fans in the Hyatt Regency's Grand Ballroom and more to a group of reporters afterward.
"Gary was like a big brother to me," Backman said. "I'm happy that was I able to spend a half-hour with him three weeks ago, a great conversation at his golf tournament [in Florida]. My memories will always be good about Gary."
Click below to hear Backman's interview session with reporters
---The team announced its full promotional schedule for the season with several tributes to the ballpark's 25th year, including a five-part commemorative coin series, an Earl of Bud bobblehead and appearance (Aug. 23) and a City Hall replica (July 18).
---The staff has been completed for Backman as Mark Brewer will be Buffalo's pitching coach in 2012 and George Greer will be the hitting coach. Brewer was in the Rookie League last year but has Triple-A experience with the Mets in New Orleans; Greer was at Kingsport of the Appalachian League in 2011 and has previous experience of 23 years as a college head coach, including 17 at Wake Forest.
Today is your last chance to get in on the Bisons' winter Hot Stove, a "Back to Baseball" meet-and-greet with new manager Wally Backman. It's Thursday night from 6-8 at the Hyatt Regency grand ballroom. For $20, you get pasta and carving stations, a Bisons merchandise table and cash bar, and a chance to mingle with Backman in an relaxed atmosphere. There will also be a brief formal program.
To order tickets/RSVP for the event, call the Bisons at 846-2011 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The media will also have a chance to chat with Backman about the Mets' upcoming spring training. I think I gotta get his opinion on GM Sandy Alderson's new Twitter account, which already has about 19,000 followers after just seven tweets.
The Buffalo Bisons announced their spring training schedule Friday, a 12-game run against the Triple-A affiliates of the Miami Marlins (New Orleans Zephyrs) and the St. Louis Cardinals (Memphis Redbirds). They will be played March 17-April 1, with the six home games at the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla. and the other six at the combined St. Louis/Miami complex in Jupiter. Both are on Florida's East Coast. All games start at 1 p.m.
The Mets open spring training when pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 20. The full squad arrives Feb. 25. Players only on minor-league contracts hit town in early March. The Bisons open their season April 5 at Pawtucket and the 25th anniversary of Coca-Cola Field begins with the home opener April 11 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at 2:05.
The full spring training schedule:
March 17 Memphis March 18 at New Orleans March 20 New Orleans March 21 at Memphis March 22 at New Orleans March 24 Memphis March 25 New Orleans March 26 at Memphis March 28 New Orleans March 30 at Memphis March 31 at New Orleans April 1 Memphis
Just like he was as a .320 hitter for the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets, Wally Backman is a scrapper as a manager who expects to win every year. That's a good thing for the Buffalo Bisons, who are expecting the New York Mets to put a winner in town next season or they might be looking elsewhere for a new parent in 2013.
Backman knocked it out of the park with an energetic introductory press conference Thursday as the Mets and Bisons made it official that he is getting promoted from Double-A Binghamton to head the Herd in 2012.
"I'm not the business guy into all that type of stuff but every year I manage a team I expect to win" Backman said. "We've talked about it. I know it's the last year the contract is up. I think the new regime [headed by Mets GM Sandy Alderson] is trying to put a product on the field that at the upper levels that is going to compete all the time."
"It's pretty evident when you spend time with Wally that he's a very, very passionate person," said Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski. "High energy, loves baseball, loves talking baseball. Ultra competitive person."
The Mets certainly want to help Backman win. It's likely their going to stock the Herd with free agents, particularly in the bullpen and middle infield. They announced the re-signing Thursday of DH/1B Valentino Pascucci, Buffalo's MVP in 2011 and Backman revealed the Mets have signed catcher/left fielder Vinny Rottino, who .304 with 10 home runs and 17 stolen bases last year with New Orleans of the Marlins chain
Backman, 52, is entering his 10th managerial season and his third in the Mets organization. Overall, he has a record of 534-488 (.523) with two league championships in his career but his road to Buffalo has been a circuitous one. He was a rising star as a manager and was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004 -- only to be fired four days later when reports surfaced of a DUI, personal bankruptcy and an old assault charge from a friend of his wife.
Out of baseball for two years, he resurfaced with an independent league team in Albany, Ga. in 2007, then moved for two years in Joliet, Ill. The Mets rehired him in 2010 and he won a division title at Class A Brooklyn of the New York-Penn League. Backman's Binghamton team was 65-76 last year, riddled by callups to Buffalo, but finished the season 30-21.
"I am passionate about the game," Backman said. "I expect my players to take the games personal, the wins and the losses, and I expect them to be prepared to win every day."
The Bisons are going to have some stud starting pitching in 2012. Former No. 1 draft pick Matt Harvey pitched in Binghamton last year and so did Jeurys Familia, signed as an undrafted 18-year-old in 2007. They both could be here. Jenrry Mejia, felled by Tommy John surgery, could be back by the middle of the season. Zack Wheeler, acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade, might get here at some point. Same for lefty Darin Gorski, who lit up the Florida State League.
"I want Familia, I want Harvey," Backmann said. "One of the two I'll have to fight for. I think one of the two I'll probably get. I believe they're both ready to come here."
Here's a pair of audio tracks from my post-news conference chat with Backman.
Before heading to the airport tonight to get to Raleigh for tomorrow's Sabres game, I'm taking a detour to the Bisons' clubhouse for a 2 p.m. press conference. It's a big announcement that will make official what we reported the first week of October: Former New York Mets second baseman Wally Backman (right) will be introduced as the Bisons' manager for 2012.
Backman, who led Double-A Binghamton last year, reportedly turned down a chance to serve as a coach under Davey Johnson in Washington so that he could manage in Triple-A. Johnson apparently advised him to do so.
Backman shared the second base platoon with Tim Teufel for Johnson's '86 World Series champion Mets and now takes over the Herd from Teufel, who will be Terry Collins' third-base coach in New York next season.
Backman has had a long road back to get this point. He was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks for four days in 2004 until he was fired when reports surfaced of a DUI, an old battery charge and financial difficulties. He took two years off, started in independent ball in 2007 in Albany, Ga. and has worked his way back up with the Mets from Class A Brooklyn to Binghamton and Buffalo.
Lots of folks in New York will be watching Backman closely this season. Large segments of the fan base want him to be Collins' heir apparent. By all reports, Backman is a funny, irascible character who should liven things up around Coca-Cola Field.
Don't believe me? Go on YouTube and look up "Playing for Peanuts". It's a documentary that was filmed in '07 when Backman managed the South Georgia Peanuts and some of his rants are hysterical. Too much profanity to link here though. Google and YouTube it. Trust me.
---Mike Harrington (www.twitter.com/bnharrington)
AP Photo: Backman greets fans in 2008 on the final day at Shea Stadium.
As we reported Oct. 5, it's just about a lock now that former Mets second baseman Wally Backman will be the manager of the Bisons in 2012. That looked to be the case when the Mets promoted 2011 Herd manager Tim Teufel to third-base coach, and the easy assumption was that Backman was coming up from Double-A Binghamton. Mets GM Sandy Alderson even said that to be a likely scenario on a conference call that day.
But Backman started talking to the Washington Nationals and old Mets manager Davey Johnson about a coaching position in the big leagues and the easy move suddenly seemed like it might be in jeopardy.
As it turns out, Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record reports that Johnson himself has recommended Backman take the job in Buffalo. I agree. Backman needs to show he can manage older players if he wants to get the Mets' job someday, or any other one.
There's no word yet on when the Mets will make the hiring official. Teams often do all of their minor-league coaching assignments together and that could take until after the Winter Meetings next month in Dallas.
ST. LOUIS -- MLB just announced a change in the Media Day schedule, shifting the Rangers' time from 1:45 Central to 4 p.m. Central. Later dinner for all of us tonight. So now things don't start until C.J. Wilson and Ron Washington hit the podium at 2:15 CT.
So while we wait to mine some nuggets at Media Day, here's some reading material for you to peruse:
---Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Jeff Manto and ex-Bisons catcher Tim Laker appear to be the candidates for the White Sox vacant hitting coach job. Manto was the team's roving instructor last year while Laker was at Triple-A Charlotte under manager Joe McEwing, who has been hired as Robin Ventura's third-base coach. But remember this: McEwing is regarded as one of Manto's best friends in the game and another is Sox minor-league director and former big-league manager Buddy Bell. Interesting.
---Speaking of the Red Sox, if they don't make a deal today with the Cubs for compensation for GM Theo Epstein, it's got to be put off until after the World Series. Alex Rodriguez circa 2007 aside, you're not supposed to make any announcements during the Fall Classic.
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.
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.