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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Fred Breining

(Born November 15, 1955) -- Fred Breining is a familiar name to Buffalo Bisons’ fans. In fact, he’s a big part of an important day in team history.

The pitcher grew up in Northern California and was a third-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1974. His first pro assignment sent him to Niagara Falls, where he played in the New York-Penn League.

Breining worked his way up the organizational ladder slowly. Finally, he was assigned to the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate in 1979. That sent him to Buffalo, which was back in baseball after close to a nine-year drought. What’s more, he started the team’s first home game in War Memorial Stadium, won by a walk-off home run by Luis Salazar.

Breining had a 5-4 record with the Bisons before he was traded to the Giants in a six-player deal involving Bill Madlock. He reached the majors a year later and stayed there through 1983.

In 1984, Breining was dealt to the Expos. He fielded a bunt by Ray Knight, threw to first ... and blew out his shoulder. Breining never pitched in the majors again. He currently teaches baseball in the Sacramento area.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Youth for experience

Guess that Bandits aren't done changing their roster.

They completed yet another trade on Wednesday. They gave up Jeremy Thompson in a deal that brought Edmonton's Aaron Wilson and a conditional second-round pick.

Wilson is a proven scorer in the National Lacrosse League. He's been over 30 goals in a season five different times. Wilson started his career with Toronto, and moved through Rochester and Minnesota before landing in Edmonton.

If there's a worry here, it's the direction of Wilson's production. He's gone from 40 goals in a season to 23 to 13 the last couple of years. Wilson will be 32. That's clearly not old by NLL standards - ask John Tavares - but it's easy to wonder what's up. However, he is an Ontario native and might appreciate the chance to play in the area again.

I could possibly argue that Thompson's departure carries a little risk. He was the Bandits' top draft choice last year. I do remember Luke Wiles saying without prompting that the Bandits needed to find Thompson some playing time, because he had a lot of talent. I think it's fair to say that coach Darris Kilgour likes an experienced roster

On the other hand, Thompson was a second-round pick. And the Bandits may have traded a former second-rounder for a potential 30-goal scorer and a second-rounder. Hard to argue about that.

By the way, IL Indoor reports that Wiles is in the midst of a contract dispute with the Bandits. There is a pay scale, but there are bonuses available in different ways. It's difficult to believe something won't get done before the start of the season ... but I believe I said something like that about the National Hockey League this summer.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: John Rigas

(Born November 14, 1924) -- It’s a good-sized coincidence: John Rigas has the same birthday as the man who succeeded him as the owner of the Buffalo Sabres, Tom Golisano. Rigas was born 17 years earlier.

Rigas was born in Wellsville and served in the Army in World War II. He attended R.P.I. in Troy, and took his first job in Emporium, Pennsylvania, for Sylvania. He then tried his luck by buying a movie theater and a cable television business as something of a sidelight.

Rigas and brother Guy aggressively expanded the cable TV business over the years. Adelphia eventually reached into 30 states and became one of the biggest such companies in the United States.

Along the way, Rigas purchased part and then all of the Buffalo Sabres. The dream was to create synergy between the two enterprises, and set up a major headquarters in downtown Buffalo. An entire region was hoping the plan would succeed.

Then everything crashed. Rigas was indicted for wire fraud, bank fraud and securities fraud. He was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison.

--- Budd Bailey

Turkey Trot is a sellout

Were you waiting to get an entry in to this year's YMCA Turkey Trott? It's now officially too late.

The YMCA announced Tuesday that all of the approximately 14,000 spaces for the race have been filled. That's very impressive, since the price of the race went up and the number of entries increased by 1,000 this year.

As usual, the Trot will be held at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, starting on Delaware Ave. in North Buffalo.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Gil Perreault

(Born November 13, 1950) -- There’s little doubt who the face of the Buffalo Sabres’ franchise was and is. Gil Perreault will have that distinction for a long time to come.

Perreault was born in Quebec, where he also played junior hockey. The center was a standout for the Montreal Junior Canadiens. In his last year there in 1969-70, Perreault had 121 points in 54 games.

There was no doubt who the best player in the 1970 Entry Draft was. The question was, who would get to pick him? The Sabres won a famous spin of the wheel against Vancouver and thus earned the chance to have Perreault suit up in a Buffalo uniform.

He stayed through the fall of 1986 season. He scored 512 goals and never played for another team in his brilliant career. More importantly, Perreault played with a rare flair that made him one of the most exciting players to watch in hockey history.

Perreault has done some work for the Sabres and their alumni over the years. And now there’s a statue of him right outside the Sabres’ home on the patio of the First Niagara Center.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: George Ratterman

(Born on November 12, 1926) -- Old-timers remember the original Buffalo Bills of the All-American Football Conference. And they certainly remember George Ratterman, the quarterback of some of those teams.

Ratterman was a top athlete in Cincinnati and landed at Notre Dame. There he was a letterman in baseball, football, basketball and tennis - one of only four people to win letters in four different sports there. Legendary coach Frank Leahy called him one of the greatest all-around athletes in the school’s history.

Ratterman arrived with the Bills in 1947, where he set a pro football rookie record by throwing 22 touchdown passes. He stayed through the 1949 season, when the AAFC and National Football League merged in a deal that left the Bills on the outside looking in.

The quarterback called signals for the New York Yanks of the NFL and Montreal Alouettes of the CFL before landing in Cleveland in 1952. He eventually succeeded Otto Graham as a starting quarterback in 1956.

Ratterman received his law degree in 1956 as well, and also worked as a commentator on American Football League games. He died in 2007.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Getting closer to the season

Lacrosse sticks were seen in the First Niagara Center on Saturday. It was kind of nice to see the building host sports activity, if you know what I mean.

The Bandits hosted free agent tryouts during the day, including workouts and a scrimmage. Many draft choices turned out for the session. Coach Darris Kilgour had his first chance to see how they looked in that setting. Interestingly, ex-Bandit Kyle Schmelze was there as well. It is to his credit that he'd show up at an event like that, even though his talents are obviously well-known to the coaching staff.

There was someone missing. Equipment manager John Craig reportedly has retired from his position after 15 years with the team.

Craig was one of the unsung heroes, frequently driving ridiculous distances to do his job at all hours of the day or night in sason. Talk about bleeding orange - when the Bandits won a title in 2008, he had a tattoo of the Cup put on his body as a tribute.

And on a personal note, John might have been the first person I met when I took over the Bandits' beat in December 2008. He was friendly on the first day, and friendly on the last. To say that his personality will be missed, by me and everyone else around the team, is an understatement. Good luck to him.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Kevin Kunnert

(Born on November 11, 1951) -- It’s tough to write the history of the Buffalo Braves without mentioning the name of Kevin Kunnert. He didn’t do much here, but he was involved in two good-sized trades in team history.

Kunnert was a standout at the University of Iowa. His scoring average went up in each of three seasons, peaking in 1972-73 as a senior when he averaged 19.2 points and 13.9 rebounds per game. Those numbers, and his 7-feet of height, attracted the attention of pro scouts.

Kunnert went 12th in the first round to the Chicago Bulls, but he never played a game there. In preseason of 1973, he and Garfield Heard were traded to the Braves for John Hummer and two draft choices. It was a steal, as Heard moved right into the starting lineup while Kunnert served as a backup center.

By February of 1974, the Braves thought they needed some help on the bench to be a playoff contender. Kunnert and Dave Wohl were shipped to Houston in exchange for Jack Marin and Matt Goukas. That deal helped the Braves became a superb offensive team, and Buffalo did indeed make the playoffs.

Kunnert lasted longer in the NBA than the Braves did. He also played Houston until 1978, spent a year with the Clippers, and finished his career in Portland.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: John Lipon

(Born on November 10, 1922) -- Johnny Lipon managed for 31 seasons, 30 of them in the minor leagues. His worst winning percentage came in Buffalo, which tells you all you might need to know about the team he led that season.

“Skids” went to high school in Detroit and debuted in the major leagues in 1942. World War II interrupted his career, but Lipon returned to stay with the Tigers through 1952. Then he was traded to the Red Sox that also involved Boston legend Johnny Pesky. The shortstop bounced through St. Louis and Cincinnati at the end of his major-league career in 1954.

Lipon spent a few more years playing in the minors, including a stop in Havana. He got his first chance to manage in 1959 in Selma, Ala. He worked his way up to AAA and then jumped to the Indians’ coaching staff. Lipon was Cleveland’s interim manager in 1971, and didn’t have much talent. The Tribe went 18-41.

Lipon went back to the minors from there, and skippered the Buffalo Bisons in 1981. The Pirates gave him some “colorful” personalities and not much talent, and the Bisons went 56-81.

At 58, it almost seemed like the game had passed him by. But Lipon showed his staying power from there. He managed for 11 more seasons, finally retiring in 1992 at the age of 69. Lipon died in 1998.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Top moments signify this year's Cup

By Gene Kershner

The 2012 Breeders’ Cup (BC) is in the books and the 29th anniversary of the event that was the brainchild of the late John Gaines most certainly delivered the goods. Even though handle and attendance were both down in comparison to 2011, the racing product did not disappoint.

Attendance for the two days at Santa Anita was down 6.9 percent (89,742 versus 96,496 in 2009) in comparison to the last time the Cup was held at the California track. Of course, in 2009 hometown hero Zenyatta was a big draw and she impacted that year’s Saturday attendance figures significantly.

Nonetheless several results stuck with me the most while observing the two days of 15 championship races:

“It Never Rains in California.” That was a quote from trainer George Weaver, who handled Bona Ventures Stables’ Summer of Fun who finished third in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and it certainly did not disappoint. The context of our conversation was that Summer of Fun did not like the moisture in the turf up at Woodbine and that would prefer a firmer grass course. This was also the case for Juvenile Turf winner George Vancouver whose trainer Aidan O’Brien who had struggled in Great Britain on soft ground and really loved the firm turf of the Santa Anita course, upsetting the field at odds of 9-1. The weather at Santa Anita was just gorgeous all weekend and couldn’t have been better for the big weekend.

Animal Kingdom’s monster final furlong time in the Mile. The come home time for the 2011 Derby winner in the BC Mile was less than 11 seconds (0:10 4/5). Animal Kingdom roared home picking off four horses in the stretch only to finish a length and a half behind ultimate winner and likely Horse of the Year Wise Dan. He was steadied early in the race and had nowhere to run until he finally split horses in the final eighth of a mile to finish strong.  Compared to the 2012 Kentucky Derby field that has been decimated by injury, the 2011 group also had a strong showing from third place Derby finisher Mucho Macho Man, who lost a stretch duel with Fort Larned in the Classic.

Strong TV ratings. With a solid lead-in by a Notre Dame football game that went into triple overtime with Pittsburgh, the prime time telecast drew a 2.2, which according to NBC was 83 percent higher than last year’s telecast on ESPN. The Classic went off at 8:43 p.m. ET and the aforementioned tight stretch duel provided NBC with yet another thrilling race on the main network. Earlier in August, the network televised the first dead heat in over 100 years in the Travers at Saratoga.

Filly Power. As the Friday BC card usually highlights the majority of the filly races (five of six races), two fillies stole some of the spotlight from the boys on the Saturday card. Groupie Doll, the fabulous Bowman’s Band filly, overcame a strong speed biased track to be the only horse to win coming off the pace to win the Filly and Mare Sprint. She was much the best in pulling away from the field winning by over four lengths in winning her fifth straight race. The other filly to win on Saturday, did so against males, when Jim Rome’s Mizdirection captured the 6 ½-furlong Turf Sprint coming down the hill. With morning line odds of 20-1, the Mizzen Mast filly was crushed at the windows down to 5-1 and proved to be a horse for the course, winning her third straight race on the Santa Anita turf.

Maragh’s Marauders. While Mike Smith was named the weekend’s outstanding jockey with his wins on Royal Delta and Mizdirection, Rajiv Maragh quietly won two BC races himself. He was aboard D. Wayne Lukas’ upset winner Hightail in Friday’s Juvenile Sprint and Groupie Doll in the Filly and Mare Sprint on Saturday. The New York-based rider continues to improve and made the most of his mounts during this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

It’s time to start looking forward to the few big races remaining this year like the Clark Handicap and the Cigar Mile as well as sorting out who will be on my year end Eclipse ballots before we close the book on 2012.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.