BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s finally opening day at Sahlen Field.
The Buffalo Bisons are scheduled to play a doubleheader for their home opener Friday against the Worcester Red Sox, with the first game starting at 5:05 p.m. and a fireworks show to follow. It marks the 35th home opener at the downtown ballpark.
The Bisons’ home opener was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but three straight games were postponed due to poor field conditions and weather. Weather on Friday bodes a lot better, with clear skies and cooler temperatures anticipated.
Here are four things to know ahead of the return of baseball in Buffalo.
With Triple-A baseball extending its season to 150 games and building more off days into the schedule, the season starts earlier than ever. Buffalo opened its schedule in March for the first time in franchise history, winning two of three against Scranton/Wilkes Barre over the weekend.
The 2023 home opener won’t be the earliest in Bisons history, but it’s close. Since the downtown Buffalo ballpark opened in 1988, the Bisons have opened twice on April 3 (2003, 2014) and three other times on April 4 (1997, 2013, 2019).
Tuesday’s weather forecast calls for morning rain clearing hours before reaching a high temperature of 53 degrees around the time recently-retired WGR radio host Howard Simon is scheduled to throw out the first pitch. The average high temperature for the Bisons’ other five home openers played April 3 or 4 was 42 degrees. Last year’s April 5 game was the first home opener since 2010 played in the 60s. The Bisons will play 12 of their 26 April games at home in Buffalo, where the average monthly high temperature is 51, and it normally rains on 10 of 30 days.
“I’ve played here before in April and I know it’s just a matter of you just try and survive until it gets warm really,” third-year manager Casey Candaele said prior to the Bisons’ first team workout on March 28. “You go out and just battle through everything. Everybody’s in the same boat. If you can get the games in, it’s great.”
Ticket prices have gone up by 50 cents, ranging from $13.50 for youth and senior admission to $19.50 for prime seating. Tickets can be purchased a day in advance for a $3 discount.
The Bisons are expecting more Canadian fans this year with pandemic-related border restrictions lifted. Canadian money will be accepted at par through May 31.
“We’re expecting the Canadians in general to come back and enjoy Bisons baseball,” Sprague said. “It’s a huge part of our business, huge part of our fan base with the parent company, with the Blue Jays, and we’re excited to have them back.
New tech, new rules
Last year it was the pitch clock. This season, Major League Baseball has expanded its experiment with robot umpires to all 30 Triple-A ballparks.
The Automatic Ball-Strike system will debut at Sahlen Field, the oldest venue in Triple-A, on May 9. The system will call pitches for games played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays, while umpires do the job Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with teams able to use ABS to challenge three calls per game.
“It will be interesting,” Candaele said. “Umpires will probably be happier because you can’t yell at them for three games. And then you can’t really yell at them the next three games because you can just challenge it. … It seems to me it’s moving in a good direction. But who knows? We’ll see how it works out. Obviously the way it’s progressing is they are looking to put this at the big-league level and just make the game more precise.”
“It’s just another thing that is new that we’ll get used to dealing with. Obviously, the clock last year and all that was tough for the first week or so, and then everyone settled in.”
MLB has introduced a new playoff format at the Triple-A level. The International League season will be split in half, and the team with the best record on June 25 will face the team with the best record in the second half of the season in a three-game League Championship Series for a spot in the Triple-A National Championship Game on Sept. 30 in Las Vegas.
The fan experience also will get a tech upgrade with Sahlen Field’s new mobile concessions ordering service. Using a QR code on the scoreboard, patrons can order from a limited menu of ballpark staples for pickup at a station behind home plate.
“We’re hoping that new technology that everybody’s used to now just ordering and have food delivered to you, we’ll get there eventually,” general manager Anthony Sprague said. “But for now, you can order it and you don’t have to wait in line. … You’ll get an alert when it’s ready. You go pick it up and head right back to your seat.”
Backpacks will no longer be allowed at Sahlen Field. Fans can carry in 16 x 16 x 12-inch clear plastic bags, diaper bags, medical use bags and purses.
Players to watch
CF Wynton Bernard: Former Niagara Purple Eagle made his big-league debut last year with the Rockies after 10 years in the minors. He drove in all three runs in a 3-2 win on Sunday, including a two-run double with two out in the 10th inning.
1B Addison Barger: The 23-year-old is Toronto’s No. 6 prospect. Barger batted .308 with 26 home runs last summer, .355 with three homers in eight games with the Bisons. He hit a 456-footer on Saturday, the Bisons’ lone homer of the season so far.
P Yosver Zulueta: Tuesday’s projected starter is the No. 3 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system. The 25-year-old Cuban has returned from a torn ACL last season and had a 3.85 ERA in four games with the Bisons.
2B/OF Otto Lopez: Last season’s Jimmy Griffin Hometown Hero Award hit .297 for Buffalo last season and was among the final cuts for the Blue Jays’ roster following a strong performance for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
Opening day is the first TWOs-day of the season with Sahlen’s hot dogs discounted to $2 each Tuesday. Additional weekly promotions include Thirsty Thursday, Friday Night Bash, Labbatturday, and Family Funday. The Bisons also promote regular Dog Day afternoons.
Kids Week: With most schools on break this week, youths age 14 and under can get $10 tickets for games Wednesday through Sunday. The first 1,000 children in attendance will receive a voucher for a free hot dog, soda or cotton candy. The Bisons plan to offer more child-friendly activities for Sunday games, including mascot meet-and-greets pregame and youth base-running following the matinee games.
Additional dates to mark on the magnetic schedule calendars available at the home opener:
May 18: Pride Night
May 19: Marvel’s Defenders of the Diamond
May 20: Armed Forces Day
May 21: Princess Day at the Ballpark
June 1: School Kids Day
June 3: Star Wars Night
June 13: Irish Festival Night
June 15: Lacrosse Night with Buffalo Bandits
June 17: Native American Heritage Night
June 18: Father’s Day postgame Play Catch on the Field with Dad
June 29: Tyler’s Amazing Balancing Act
July 1-2: Report Card Days
July 3: Independence Eve Fireworks with BPO
July 14: Women in Sports Nights
July 25: Italian Festival Night
July 27: Dog Parade
July 28: Christmas in July
July 29: National Chicken Wing Day
July 30: ZOOperstars
August 15: Polish Festival Night
August 17: Casey Candaele Bobble Head Giveaway
August 18: Obscure Jersey Night
August 19: Hockey Night with Buffalo Sabres
August 20: Back to School Day
August 29: Mystery Ball
Sept. 3: Team Photo & Autograph Day
Sept. 9: Marvel Super Hero Night
Sept. 10: Military & First Responders Night
Sept. 20-24: Fan Appreciation Week
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.