The Bison's have existed in one form or another for more than 140 years. Aside from a few small breaks in their history but since the mid 1800's the city of Buffalo has pretty much always had someone swinging lumber who went by the name "Bisons".
One of the things which got me interested in baseball as a youth was the buildup to "Pilot field". Up until then I was mainly a Hockey and Football guy who was vaguely aware of some hideous creatures running around Buffalo known as "Yankee Fans".
When Pilot field was built my father took me to a few games and I fell in love with the experience of taking in a game.
Pilot Field was part of an experience which brought Buffalo oh so close to getting into the Majors. The city's bid lost out to the Marlins and Rockies but in the end it may have been a blessing for the Queen City to have kept their AAA team instead of picking up an expansion club, or the buying the expos as was once the rumor.
AAA Baseball works for Buffalo because it's a hockey town with a football problem. Baseball is nice and all but I don't know that there is room enough in the hearts, or cash enough in the wallets of Buffalo fans to support a Major League baseball team. The 3A level of baseball however is a different beast and fits the laid back schedule of someone who loves the game for the sake of the game.
The minor league clubs are farm teams for the Bigs and AAA is the highest level of the farm system. The Quality of baseball is pretty decent and Pilot Field (until they find a better name) is a beautiful venue.
Having a professional team pay your manager and all of the players means the the owner, in this case the Rich Family, get to have their baseball team with a lot of the expenses deferred to the major league parent team. The down side is that you are at the mercy of your parent franchise as to what players and managers you have.
When I started following the Bison's in the late 80's they were a farm club for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Stadium was new, the Earl of Bud was dancing the "Pee Wee Herman dance", the crowds were big and the team was winning games.
Six straight years the Bison's had a winning record, winning their division twice. In 1995 Buffalo became a farm team for the Cleveland Indians. What had been good years under the Pirates turned into spectacular years under Cleveland.
13 straight winning seasons, 9 trips to the post season, and three International League Championships. Attendance was not as high as it had been back when Pilot field was new but the Bisons still had great crowds. Then in 2009 the franchise made perhaps their worst mistake of the modern era, they sighed with the New York Mets.
Don't get me wrong, the Mets are probably my favorite team in the National League, I don't dislike the franchise but they were not a good match for Buffalo. But the problem with the Mets was that they are just far enough away from Buffalo as to make their fan base not care to travel to AAA games and that their front office meddled with a successful program.
First the re-branding of the team into a Mets like uniform. Despite being a minor league team the Bisons had a 20 year old established identity. The Pirates did not mess with it and the Indians did not mess with it. The Mets meddled and worse than that they did not send a team to Buffalo that could win games.
Buffalo had losing seasons three of their four years under the Mets and the team's best finish in their division was third. Attendance, which had already been struggling a bit really took a nose dive, this caused the local media turned against the team.
When the contract the team bolted. The Buffalo News noted "The Bisons weren’t staying with the Mets after four mostly-miserable seasons. Attendance would have fallen through the floor, rather than going up by roughly 700 a game"
Buffalo jumped at a chance to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. While the Mets had to go out to Las Vegas for their new AAA franchise. In Las Vegas, which plays in an pitcher impaired league, the Mets batters have found some success. Maybe those players would play better in Buffalo, but not well enough to turn support around.
Canadian's from across the peace bridge are already accustomed to supporting Buffalo Sports. The come over for the Sabres and the Bills and now the come over in increasing numbers for the Bison's. The team has seen a boost of 700 fans per game.
Last season was a winning season and this year the Bisons are at .500 tied for third in the IL East division. They are far from the glory of their days as an affiliate of Cleveland but they seem to be mending fences with the fan base and putting a better team on the field.
Two missed chances for a major league team in my lifetime means that Buffalo is probably going to be a AAA town for years to come, but at least it can be an AAA team with a parent franchise that seems invested in the team.
So which was a worse series of events for Buffalo? The Bisons trying to work with the Mets or Hasek & Nolan fiasco?