Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg held court with members of the local media at Coca-Cola Field Tuesday before the start of a four-game series between the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and Buffalo Bisons.
Sandberg is in his first season managing the Iron Pigs, and he has them in first place in the International League's North Division. That's an impressive feat for a franchise that has been an IL laughingstock since the former Ottawa Lynx relocated to Allentown, Pa., in 2008. The Iron Pigs started 0-11 in their first year and never spent a day above .500 in the three seasons before Sandberg's arrival.
It's hardly a coincidence. Sandberg was the Pacific Coast League's Manager of the Year in 2010 with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and has won at every other minor league level.
He credits the Philadelphia Phillies for stocking the Lehigh Valley roster with veteran talent, but he deserves credit for making good use of that talent.
“Out of spring training and early in April it was my job to form a team and get them playing together as a group,’’ said Sandberg, who has seen 10 players promoted to the parent club. “It’s a good group to come to the ballpark every day, so I enjoy that and getting in our work. With their talent and with the work that we put in, the wins have been the side effect of all that.’’
However, he was passed over by the Chicago Cubs' managerial job last offseason. It was a stunning snub considering his greatest seasons came with the Cubs, who made him one of four players to have his jersey retired.
Sandberg could have returned to Iowa, but chose to leave the Cubs organization to manage for the Phillies organization, where his 16-year career began in 1978.
"There was a sense of disappointment, but that’s baseball,'' said the 10-time All-Star, nine-time Golden Glove winner, seven-time Silver Slugger recipient and 1984 National League MVP. "The next thing is what do I do now? The Phillies called me right away to see what my plans were. They got good recommendations about what I did in the Minor Leagues, so they offered me this job. I thought it was a great situation to come back here and wear this uniform and help out the Phillies at the Minor League level. I still have a goal of being a part of a World Series, so if I can do it in this capacity that would be ideal. I really enjoy where I’m at.''
For more on Sandberg's playing and managing career, check out my column in Wednesday's Buffalo News.
It's Star Wars Night at Coca-Cola Field, as the Herd takes on the Columbus Clippers in the first game of a four-game series. The Bisons are wearing special Star Wars themed uniforms which will be auctioned off following the game. The Bisons are 1-3 so far on its current homestand after Friday night's loss to Indianapolis. Here is the starting lineup for tonight's game:
Luis Figueroa, ss Michael Fisher, 3b Fernando Martinez, rf Val Pascucci, 1b Zach Lutz, dh Jesus Feliciano, cf Luis Hernandez, 2b Jason Botts, lf Raul Chavez, c Chris Schwinden, p
An eight-game homestand starts in just about a half hour at the downtown ballpark as the Buffalo Bisons are back home. They'll kick off a four-game set with the Indianapolis Indians at 7:05 p.m. It's perfect baseball weather here at Coca-Cola Field, with just a gentle breeze and temperatures in the 70s.
For the Bisons, right-hander Josh Stinson will oppose southpaw Justin Wilson on the mound. Stinson is 3-4 with a 5.04 earned-run average. The Bisons wrapped up a 3-5 road trip last night and are 26-33 on the season, 11 games out in the International League North.
Stinson, who has won his last two decisions, will look to help reverse that tonight against the Indians. He's 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA at home this year.
At the plate, Valentino Pascucci has driven in 29 runs for the Herd since May 10, leading the IL. Pascucci is hitting .317 with eight doubles, five homers and 12 runs during that 26-game stretch. He has a team-high 34 RBIs.
The first home series win of the season is in sight for the Buffalo Bisons.
After opening today's doubleheader against Gwinnett with a 5-3 win, the Herd is now on a two-game winning streak and can take three of four from the Braves with a sweep this afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 3:35 p.m.
Valentino Pascucci's two-out grand slam into the Bully Hill party deck in right field highlighted a five-run fifth inning for the Bisons in the opener. Pascucci made up for his pair of errors in the first inning that allowed Gwinnett to take a 2-0 lead.
Bisons reliever Bobby Parnell, on injury rehab from the New York Mets, made his best appearance with the Herd. He pitched the final two innings, striking out three batters in a row at one point. Parnell ended the sixth with a 99 mph strikeout of Gwinnett catcher J.C. Boscan.
Starters for the Bisons in the nightcap will be:
Michael Fisher, 3B
Luis Hernandez, SS
Lucas Duda, LF
Fernando Martinez, RF
Bubba Bell, CF
Chin-Lung Hu, 2B
Raul Chavez, C
John Lujan, P
Lujan is making his first career start for the Bisons and just the eighth of his career (the last came in 2007 with Single-A Winston-Salem) as back-to-back doubleheaders have forced the Bisons to cobble together a staff.
It's an overcast, but warm day here at Coca-Cola Field, where the Buffalo Bisons are set to play their second straight doubleheader against the Gwinnett Braves.
The Bisons haven't played back-to-back twinbills since Aug. 20-21, 2009 against Syracuse, splitting each time, as Buffalo and Gwinnett did yesterday.
Splitting at home is something the Herd is accustomed to this season. Buffalo is 14-14 on the home field, and has split all four series. Buffalo starts the day 9.5 games behind Lehigh Valley in the International League, so if it wants to get back in the race, a sweep today would be a good place to start.
Starting for the Bisons in the opener will be:
Luis Figueroa, SS
Michael Fisher, 3B
Lucas Duda, RF
Valentino Pascucci, 1B
Jason Botts, LF
Jesus Feliciano, CF
Mike Nickeas, C
Luis Hernandez, 2B
Brian Sweeney, P
We'll be back on the blog with some details from the first game and the starting lineup for the second later this afternoon, so check back.
As I write this at 7:17 p.m., the sun is shining at Coca-Cola Field.
The rain that preceded it, however, was too strong, thus postponing tonight's game between the Buffalo Bisons and Gwinnett Braves. It's the Herd's third postponement of the season at home in what has been a spring made for ducks.
The rainout also cost Bisons fans a chance to see Mets outfielder Angel Pagan take the field in a Buffalo uniform. Pagan was scheduled to bat leadoff and play center field for the Herd. Manager Tim Teufel said no decision has been made on whether Pagan will stay with the Herd and play Friday, or whether he'll rejoin the Mets for their series with Philadelphia.
The Bisons will make up the game as part of a doubleheader today, beginning at 5:35 p.m. The two teams will play two seven-inning games. Gates open at 5 p.m. and the team's Plaza Party will begin at that time.
Fans with tickets for today's game can exchange them for a comparable ticket to any future 2011 Bisons game (excluding special events). All exchanges must be made at the Coca-Cola Field box office.
---The Bisons announced that infielder Michael Fisher and pitcher Dylan Owen were promoted to the team. Fisher was with Double-A Binghamton while Owen was with Single-A Brooklyn. Also, Bisons outfielder Fernando Martinez was sent up to the Mets and pitcher Tobi Stoner has been taken off the Bisons disabled list and transferred to Single-A St. Lucie.
"As the doctor told us from the very beginning," said GM Frank Wren, "in the big picture – and that’s what we always have to keep in mind – in the big picture this is a really good outcome. He’s alive…. He’s alive."
Salazar is still expected to be ready in 4-6 weeks for his managerial gig at Class A Lynchburg (Va.), so that's certainly good news.
Salazar, 54, played 1,302 big-league games from 1980-1992 with San Diego, Detroit and the Chicago Cubs. He played with the Niagara Falls Pirates in 1976 (where one of his teammates was former Niagara University legend Phil Scaffidi), and had a big season for the 1979 Bisons in their first year back in Double-A as he batted .323 with 27 homers and 86 RBIs on a Buffalo team that also featured future big-leaguer Tony Pena.
Salazar, in fact, is the answer to a major Buffalo baseball trivia question. His walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Herd a 1-0 victory at War Memorial Stadium in its first game as a Double-A franchise after nearly nine years of no pro ball in town.
There will not be any affiliation changes in the International League next season, meaning the Toronto Blue Jays are stuck in the Pacific Coast League and may, in fact, have no choice but to return to Las Vegas. Charlotte (White Sox), Durham (Tampa Bay), Scranton (Yankees) and Norfolk (Baltimore) have all signed through 2014. The only unsigned team is Pawtucket but that's a formality as the PawSox will certainly renew with Boston and extend an affilation that dates to the 1970s.
In the PCL, Texas ended its 28-year affiliation with Oklahoma City today and announced it was moving to Round Rock, the suburban Austin team owned by Nolan Ryan. So that leaves Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Portland (Padres) and Sacramento (Athletics) as the only cities without new agreements. Not much choice for the folks in Toronto. Maybe if they had taken better care of Syracuse in the J.P. Ricciardi days, they wouldn't be stuck in this situation now.
On the field, meanwhile, Columbus took a 2-0 lead in the Governors' Cup finals with Thursday's 4-0 win over Durham. The Clippers can take their first title since 1996 if they win tonight in Durham.
The winner advances to Tuesday's Triple-A National Championship game in Oklahoma City against the PCL champion. Tacoma leads Memphis in that series, 2-0, with Game Three tonight. All games are being played in Memphis because of renovations that are ongoing in Tacoma's ballpark and had to be started immediately following the regular season so they would be ready next April.
If you're in the Southern Tier tonight, the Jamestown Jammers will be hosting Game One of the New York-Penn League playoffs against the league's top team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, at 7:05 in Diethrick Park (directions here). Jamestown won the NY-P wild-card with a 43-32 record. Brooklyn was 51-24. The other semifinal series has Batavia playing Game One tonight at Tri-City. The Muckdogs host Games Two and Three the next two nights in Dwyer Stadium.
Brooklyn is the Mets affiliate is managed by former 1986 Met Wally Backman, seemingly a favorite of the New York media to take over Jerry Manuel's job as soon as next year. But as this column from Steve Popper of the Bergen Record shows, some NYC media are correct in pointing out Backman is still in A ball and should keep quiet. The hitting coach for Brooklyn, by the way, is Benny DiStefano, a 1988 Triple-A all-star who was perhaps the most popular player on the Bisons during the '88 inaugural season in then-Pilot Field.
Lots of choking going on around the diamonds the last few days. The Padres dropped 10 straight and nearly all of their NL West lead before finally snapping the skid with Monday's win over the Giants. It's the first time since the 1932 Pirates a team has lost at least 10 in a row and still maintained a division lead.
And there was plenty of drama in the Pacific Coast League as well. Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg did his job to keep Cubdom going by blowing his North Division crown over the final two games at home against defending league champion Memphis. Guess he's got a future in Chicago?
The I-Cubs suffered an 8-7, 15-inning loss on Saturday and dropped Sunday's game, 7-6, after leading by three runs but then giving up a ninth-inning home run (two longballs by ex-Bison Jason Dubois weren't enough for Iowa to survive). The teams actually finish tied but Memphis won the playoff berth on the tiebreaker of best division record. Boo to that. They should have played again today in my book.
So the PCL matchups are Memphis vs. Oklahoma City and Tacoma vs. Sacramento. Durham beat Memphis in last year's Triple-A National Championship and the Sept. 21 game could have the home club in it this year; it's played annually at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.
The Bisons dropped the opener of their doubleheader with Pawtucket, 9-2. They also lost second baseman Justin Turner to a potentially serious knee injury on the second pitch of the game.
As a result, there a few lineup changes for the second game. Turner is out, with Russ Adams moving from right field to second base. Also out is Fernando Martinez, who looked like he could have been playing with an injury in the first game. Either that or he was serioulsy dogging it on a couple flyballs and a grounder that turned into a double play.
Andy Green, who replaced Turner at second in the first game, moves to center field.
Welcome back to Coca-Cola Field, where the Buffalo Bisons look to continue their playoff push in today's afternoon game with Thruway rival Rochester.
The Herd took last night's opener of this three-game series, 7-6, in nine innings. Dillon Gee set the franchise single-season strikeouts record, but didn't factor in the decision.
The Bisons got the win when Mike Cervenak singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Cervenak's hit scored Justin Turner with the winning run. Turner was the offensive star of the night for the Bisons, going 3 for 4 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs. Turner is hitting .311 this season with nine homers and 39 RBIs.
The Bisons remain three games behind Louisville in the race for the International League wild card. The Bats won in ridiculous fashion last night, getting a walk-off grand slam from Triple-A rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco to defeat Syracuse, 5-3.
After the ceremony, the Herd will look to continue its walk-off magic. The Bisons have won the last two games over the Gwinnett Braves with walk-off hits, Saturday night when Jorge Padilla hit a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
Dillon Gee (8-5, 4.77 ERA) will be on the hill for the Herd.
Infielder Mike Jacobs hit a pair of home runs in the Bisons' victory Wednesday at Syracuse, giving him 13 for the season. Jacobs has four homers in his last four games and nine RBIs in his last seven. He's batting fourth in tonight's starting lineup:
Justin Turner, 2b Luis Hernandez, ss Jorge Padilla, cf Mike Jacobs, 1b Fernando Martinez, rf Mike Cervenak, 3b Lucas Duda, lf Russ Adams, dh J.R. House, c Ramon Ortiz, p
By the way, Josh Thole is going to be catching Dickey today. A break for Henry Blanco and Rod Barajas but perhaps a ticket for Thole to stay in the big leagues as a third catcher. Jerry Manuel has said he wouldn't mind carrying three and Dickey loved throwing to Thole in Buffalo. It was Thole who caught Dickey's amazing April start against Durham, when he gave up a leadoff single and retired the final 27 batters.
Dickey is 6-1, 2.98 for the Mets in eight starts. Strasburg is 2-2, 2.27 with 48 strikeouts and seven walks in 31 2/3 innings.
Here might be a potentially sticky bit of chemistry someday later this summer in the Mets' clubhouse: The Amazins have signed former Yankees reliever Brian Bruney to a minor-league deal and assigned him to the Bisons. Safe to say Bruney is not one of Francisco Rodriguez's favorite guys in bullpens across America.
Bruney is most noted for being a workhorse in the Yankees' pen the last four years. He made 153 relief appearances from 2006-2009, including 32 in 2008 (when he was 3-0, 1.83) and 44 last year (5-0, 3.92).
He signed with the Nationals in the winter and was 1-2, 7.64 in 19 games for Washington. He got a look with the Brewers, pitching two scoreless games in Nashville, before hooking up with the Mets.
The Bisons, winners of three straight, face the Rochester Red Wings in the second game of a three-game series. The Herd is now 25-16 at Coca-Cola Field (.610) and following this series Buffalo travels to Syracuse for a four-game set with the rival Chiefs. Here is the starting lineup for tonight's game:
Justin Turner, 2b Luis Hernandez, ss Jorge Padilla, cf Mike Jacobs, 1b Fernando Martinez, rf Mike Cervenak, 3b Lucas Duda, lf Russ Adams, dh J.R. House, c Pat Misch, p
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.