Saturday, May 5, 2007
"We need a little hatred"
Yes it's early, and yes there's still a lot of baseball to be played this season, but as the calendar flips to May, it is the Buffalo Bisons and the Rochester Red Wings battling out for supremacy in the International League North. If the season ended today, the two teams would meet in the first round of the playoffs, with Buffalo as the wild card team.
The two ball clubs share a friendly rivalry, their fans exchange friendly banter through the "Thruway Cup" competition, but such was not always the case. Buffalo and Rochester held an intense and heated rivalry for decades... in 1933 the teams faced each other in a deciding game at Offerman Stadium before a packed and overflow crowd, a game won by Buffalo 8-1 and a night referred to as "The night the Great Depression stood still". In 1959 Bisons fans were horrified to learn that team icon Luke Easter had been released after a slow start that season. A week later he signed with the Red Wings, and played and managed for several seasons in Rochester, where he became a fan favorite and an oft Bison killer. In 1961 the team moved to the Old Rockpile, and the Kirby Farrell managed team defeated the Red Wings in the Governors Cup championship. It was unfortunate that Buffalo was out of baseball in the 70s, arguably the golden era for Rochester baseball. The teams resumed their rivalry when the Bisons entered the "AAA Alliance" in 1988, and fans packed Pilot Field in May to see these two teams meet for the first time in almost two decades.
Last year Red Wings GM Dan Mason and I talked about this legacy and history, and I asked him what could be done to really reignite that passion and rivalry like it was in the old days. "We need a little hatred" replied Mason. One of the best tonics, said Mason, would be for the clubs to face each other in the playoffs. Unfortunately, because of the IL's arcane playoff format, these two teams could never meet in the finals, but a first round matchup always remains a possibility.
Buffalo and Rochester play for the first time next weekend - Friday and Saturday at Dunn Tire Park, then on to Frontier Field Sunday and Monday, and first place in the division will be at stake. So enough of fluffy mascots, hugs and warm and fuzzy feelings between these two cities. Time to talk trash and show some ugliness. Somewhere, the spirits of Luke Easter, George Toporcer, Kirby Farrell and Danny Carnevale would be nodding their heads in approval!