Niagara Gazette

January 17, 2014

DOUG SMITH: Jays, Bisons tease the coming spring

BY DOUG SMITH
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Catchers had not yet reported but pitchers were making do. And so the distinctive “whack… whack…” of horsehide on leather echoed through one of the Adams Mark hotel conference rooms Thursday as the Blue Jays and Bisons brought spring to Buffalo for Hot Stove Day.

No other game has the likes of Hot Stove Day. Football fans do not huddle in anticipation in May, nor hoopaholics in July. Only in baseball do the faithful queue up 2 ½ months before the season and get all misty-eyed about their team, however shaky, sharing first place with the rest.

“I think it must have something to do with the weather,” the Bisons General Manager, Mike Buczkowski, opined from the dais as the gathering scattered. “Only baseball so looks forward to spring.”

Or, as it was put by Caribbean-born pitcher Esmil Rogers, one of those loosening up downstairs: “If it was this cold in the Dominican, we all would die.”

Some 400 reported to the harborside hostelry Thursday, including a goodly contingent from across the river. Several played hooky from the Jays’ front office, right under the nose of general manager Alex Anthopolous, who recalled the philosophy of head Herd honchos Bob and Mindy Rich (“It’s all about winning”) after new manager Gary Allenson had conceded to the assembled media, “When it comes to making a choice between player development and winning a particular game, we’ll choose development every time.”

Such are old chestnuts chewed around the Hot Stove. New manager Allenson, wearing a tie wide as a base path, three times referred to right-handed sliders, one of the things that he likes about managing being that he doesn’t have to face them any more. For the record, Allenson’s lifetime batting average is .007 below that of Hall of Fame electee Greg Maddux.

Keen ears could detect a lot of subtle by-play between the general managers. Buczkowski spoke favorably of callups from the Herd to Toronto – “but hopefully, not as many.” Buffalo was in playoff contention before being “gutted,” as one conceded, last August. Still, Buffalo enjoyed, as Buczkowski put it, “our largest game-to-game increase in attendance in the history of the club,” and will add more dates to specifically appeal to Jays fans across the border.

Then, as Sinatra’s “Summer Winds” oozed through the hall, it was over, and off they went, attorneys, government officials, sheriff’s deputies. Buffalo Courier-Express alumni Madelyn Barone skipped her own luncheon for this, her first Hot Stove. “It was wonderful,” she said. 

Now, to Opening Day, 76 days remain. That’s the spirit.

Doug Smith offers his takes on baseball with Base Paths, published every Monday in the Niagara Gazette during baseball season and on occasion during the offseason. Signal Base Paths at pollyndoug@hotmail.com.