The start of a new baseball season brings with it assurances that yes indeed, spring is back. The Buffalo Bisons got their season off to a winning start Thursday, opening their 2019 International League campaign with an 8-3 win at Sahlen Field against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Duke McGuire has been a member of the Bisons' staff in various capacities for nearly four decades. His current role is with the Bisons' broadcast team. While many Buffalo sports fans may be more likely to identify with their hometown football or hockey teams, both of which play in the top professional leagues in their respective sports, McGuire points out Buffalo has had a longtime strong baseball culture and following as well.
"I've seen fans here that have had season tickets since the old Rockpile days," he said, referring to the Bisons' former home at the long demolished War Memorial Stadium. "You've got your core of hearty fans and hopefully we can keep the young kids interested and keeping them coming back to the ballpark."
The Bisons' 8-3 win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders on opening day Thursday afternoon in Sahlen Field certainly offered fans a reason to come back. McGuire says this year's Bisons club is a strong one. It features several legacy players whose fathers previously played in Major League Baseball. Bo Bichette's father, Dante, played for four big league teams in a 14-year career. Cavan Biggio's father, Craig, is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s father, Vladimir Sr., played 16 seasons in the majors and was enshrined at Cooperstown last year.
Biggio hit a home run and stole a base while driving home three runs. Bichette was also credited with one run batted in. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. did not play. He's continuing to rehabilitate a preseason injury in Florida but was expected to join the Bisons lineup in the near future. He is the most highly-regarded of the prospects and many project him to become a rising star as soon as this year with the Bisons' major league affiliate the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I just hope they don't put too much pressure on Vlad Jr.," McGuire said. "He's been the number one prospect the last couple of years. He's an outstanding player right now at the Triple-A level. He has been all throughout his minor league career. (But) they've already got him going to the Hall of Fame and he hasn't had one at-bat in the big leagues."
The Blue Jays are in a rebuilding mode, which raises questions as to whether the American League club will let the Bisons keep a competitive team together as the season progresses.
"As much as you possibly can," McGuire replied. "Every team gets injuries throughout the course of the season and you've got to take them up. And this is a great mix for Toronto because if a guy gets hurt in batting practice, you can get a player up there to take his place by the time the game starts. This is perfect for Toronto. For the most part, they've done a good job. We continue to have a good relationship with the Blue Jays."
The Bisons' season-opening opponents, the RailRiders, are the top minor league affiliates of the New York Yankees. That drew some fans to Sahlen Field Thursday sporting Yankees apparel, mixed among the Bisons fans donning either hometown Buffalo jerseys or Toronto Blue Jays apparel.
The teams are scheduled to play three more games at Sahlen Field, Friday through Sunday.