BUFFALO, N.Y. (NY) — In big cities and small towns across the country, Opening Day of the baseball season is a tradition unlike any other. Dismayed by weather events and infield tarp malfunctions that caused a three-day delay, the Bisons finally celebrated the unofficial holiday on a brisk and sunny Good Friday at Sahlen Field.
Paid attendance at the evening doubleheader was announced to be 5,225, the lowest figure for a home opener in 35 seasons since Buffalo’s downtown ballpark opened. There were maybe a thousand fans in the stands, many wearing winter jackets, when the first pitch was thrown at 5:05 p.m. With a game-time temperature of 42 degrees, it was among the eight coldest opening days in stadium history. The crowd swelled some for the second game of the Friday Night Bash under the lights, as the temperature dropped to 35 degrees for only the third time at a Bisons opener before the postgame fireworks.
Families took advantage of the Kids Day promotions that will continue through the rest of the five-game weekend series with the Worcester Red Sox, with a 4:05 p.m. game Saturday and a 1:05 p.m. doubleheader on Easter Sunday. But the gathering was largely baseball devotees who circle Opening Day soon after breaking open a new calendar in January to mark the spiritual start of a summer pastime.
“There’s something special about the opening of a baseball season,” said Howard Simon, the veteran Buffalo broadcaster who called Bisons games for WBEN radio in the early days of Pilot Field and recently retired from hosting the morning show for WGR. “More so than hockey or basketball, maybe football is a different animal, but baseball opening day is always special. It’s a really cool experience that will never get old.”
Simon was flattered when assistant general manager Brad Bisbing asked him to throw out the first pitch for the Bisons. He was honored when he learned it would be the home opener.
“Wow. Really? Me?” said Simon. “There are first pitches all season long, but Opening Day is significant. I recognize it is a special honor to be here on Opening Day.”
After operating the pitch clock for the opening game, Simon was introduced to the tune of Timmy Trumpet — a tribute to Simon’s fandom for the New York Mets and their closer Edwin Diaz — before stepping in front of the mound and throwing what was officially called a strike, at least until the robot umpires arrive at Sahlen Field in May.
Brian Frank, a local baseball historian who compiles The Herd Chronicles, attended his first Opening Day at “The Rockpile” War Memorial Stadium in 1983, the first year Bob Rich Jr. owned the Bisons. Frank has been to most every opener since, save for the downtown stadium’s grand opening in 1988.
“I was in school,” said Frank, who graduated from Canisius College a decade later. “I was heartbroken that I couldn’t be here. That was a tough ticket to get. But I remember coming home from school and watching on TV. It was a really big deal.”
Frank, recognized as the Bisons Fan of the Year in 2021, called Opening Day “the most exciting day of the baseball season.”
“Everything starts anew,” Frank said. “Whether it’s the majors, or the minors, every team has a clean slate. It’s a time of optimism for everybody, the players and the fans. The winter is over. It’s spring, the sun’s out, and it’s time to play baseball.”
Charlie Greene has attended all but six Bisons games since retiring from Lutheran ministry in 2001. But Greene hasn’t missed a single Opening Day in Buffalo since the Bisons began play at The Rockpile in 1979. And he was going to Sal Maglie Stadium for the Niagara Falls Rapids home opener for almost a decade before that.
“It’s always great to have baseball back,” said Greene, who also attended Bisons’ spring training in Florida and last week’s opening game at Scranton/Wilkes Barre, the first Bisons contest ever played in March.
“For folks here who haven’t had baseball since September, you wait, and you wait, Greene said. “You watch the major leagues in October, the playoffs, the World Series. But it’s not the same. Being here in person is what makes it so special.”
“Finally after waiting all these months of cold and snowy winters, no matter what the temperature is, they are out there in their white uniforms,” said Greene, a Rochester native, who kept warm Friday inside the Consumer’s Pub at the Park mezzanine, keeping score while listening to the radio broadcast. “And we are here to cheer for them.”
Greene always roots for the home team to win on Opening Day. For that reason, he didn’t mind that the Bisons lost their first game on the road, before winning the next two. He was especially pleased when the Bisons scored the opening run in the first inning.
But the WooSox came back to win the first game 3-1. Then in the nightcap, the Bisons took the lead into the final seventh inning before giving up six runs in a 9-5 loss.
The twinbill defeats extended a disappointing week for the Bisons. The team expected a crowd approaching 10,000 for Opening Day on Tuesday. Pleasant weather was forecast. But recent wind storms had damaged the tarp at Sahlen Field. A replacement tarp didn’t arrive on time. The club secured a backup tarp from Rochester that leaked. More rain on Tuesday left the field unplayable until Friday. Kids Week got cut in half, while cooler temperatures and holiday weekend conflicts dampened the local enthusiasm for Opening Day.
Hope springs eternal in April of a baseball season. The Bisons have 145 games left to play, 72 at home, with plenty more special promotions planned.
Yet there’s only one Opening Day every year.
Here are a few more dates to remember:
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.