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Opening day is here! For the first time since the Buffalo Bisons’ franchise opened in 1877, fans can watch the first pitch slide across home plate in March, rather than April. The Herd springs into action on Friday, March 29, at their downtown home, Sahlen Field.

Another first this season will be the opportunity to view a total solar eclipse cross center field. The Bisons will host a viewing event at the ballpark featuring NASA scientists on April 8. Learn more and reserve your free general admission tickets here.

And, if we’re chronicling additions to the record book, we’d be remiss not to mention that Bob Rich Jr. is now the longest tenured Minor League Baseball team owner in history, having helmed the Herd since 1983.

As the start to this season suggests, Buffalo is no stranger to making history when it comes to baseball. As we get ready to open the Bisons’ 2024 season, let’s take a look at our rich history.

A “Rich” History of Baseball in Buffalo

In his book The Right Angle: Tales From a Sporting Life, Bob Rich Jr. wrote, “I always love walking into a ballpark. I see it as a perfect patch of green in a setting of gray, brown, and black concrete, metal, and asphalt – a rural retreat in an urban world where adult pressure gives way to a children’s game. It’s a simplistic world where you know who’s on your side who’s against you by the uniforms they wear, and there’s a minimum amount of adult supervision in the form of three black-clad umpires.”

The path to minor league baseball ownership for Rich’s began in 1982 when Bob Rich Jr. got a call from then Mayor Jimmy Griffin. Griffin wanted Bob to buy the Double-A Buffalo Bisons franchise. While the Bisons first began as a professional team in 1877, the city lost its franchise for eight years in the 1970s. Griffin was finally able to bring the club back prior to the 1979 season and was now looking for stability in ownership. Along with the pitch to purchase to Bisons, Mayor Griffin promised he would get to work on a new downtown ballpark to replace the dilapidated War Memorial Stadium, affectionately known as “the Rockpile,” which the team had called home since 1937.

Despite lackluster performance on and off the field, Bob proceeded to buy the Bisons. “I felt that I had made a good decision for my hometown, for my company, and for my family,” wrote Bob in his 2011 book. “I knew in my heart, if not my head, that the best was yet to come. How right I was.”

In the spring of 1983, during Bob’s first season at the helm of the Herd, opportunity came knocking all the way from Hollywood. That year, The Natural was filmed at the Rockpile and changed the trajectory of the Bisons’ future. The major motion picture starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close went on to earn four Oscar nominations, and the Bisons embarked on a journey that would bring countless baseball accolades to Buffalo.

Over the course of the next eight years, with a laser focus on customer service and rigorous marketing campaigns and promotional tie-ins to grow and sustain a customer base, the Bisons rose to become the most successful Triple-A franchise in the history of the game. One of the most popular events was an annual series of post-game concerts by The Beach Boys that shattered single-game attendance records.

The spring of 1988 saw the Bisons take to their new home stadium, Pilot Field in downtown Buffalo, which is the highest-capacity Triple-A ballpark in the US, seating more than 18,000 fans at the time. Opening day 1988 welcomed a sell-out crowd, the first of 22 sellouts that season, and the beginning of a record-breaking season that drew an astonishing 1,186,651 fans to the ballpark. The success continued in 1989 as the team drew 1,132,183 fans and secured their position as the first team in minor league history to post attendance numbers exceeding one million twice. The Buffalo Bisons still hold the all-time record for single season attendance with 1,240,951 in 1991. In fact, the 1988-1993 seasons claimed the highest-attendance records in Minor League Baseball history, with more than 1 million fans in attendance for six consecutive years.

Big League Dreams

But big crowds were not Bob’s only focus for the Bisons. He had even bigger dreams; big league dreams. In 1990, Bob and Mindy Rich made their pitch for a Buffalo franchise to the Major League Expansion Committee. After a relentless and arduous campaign, which landed the Herd among six finalists, franchises were ultimately awarded to Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins.

In his book, The Right Angle, Bob described the loss as a “disappointing end to the eight-year odyssey,” and he chronicled the days that followed. He recalled anticipating a backlash from the city and fans, but the response was quite the opposite. Support flooded in through calls, emails and letters. Fans applauded the major league effort, but consistently reported that they loved their Bisons just as they were.

Despite striking out in the quest for a big-league franchise, the Bisons found incredible on-field success winning division titles in 1991, 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2021. The Herd also earned a hat-trick of league championship titles in 1997, 1998 and 2004.

Over the years, the Bisons have been affiliated with several major league teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, and, since 2013, the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the 2020-21 season, Bob and Mindy saw their big-league dreams come true when Sahlen Field (the name Buffalo’s downtown ballpark assumed in 2019) became home field to the Toronto Blue Jays for 49 games amid pandemic restrictions in Canada that prohibited the team from playing in Toronto.

History-Making Members of the Herd

The Buffalo Bisons are well represented in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Since 1937, a total of 21 former Bisons players, managers or coaches have been inducted into this elite group of baseball’s finest. The group includes names like Pud Galvin, Ferguson Jenkins, Johnny Bench and Joe McCarthy. And with Jim Thome’s induction in 2018, over 6% of all the members of Cooperstown have worn a Bisons uniform at some point during their careers.

2024 marks Mike Buczkowski’s 38th season with the Buffalo Bisons, after joining the Herd in 1987 as a Public Relations Assistant. In March 2019, Mike was named the President of Rich Baseball Operations, overseeing the overall operations of not only the Bisons, but Rich’s other two minor league franchises: the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, a Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, and the West Virginia Black Bears who were back-to-back MLB Draft League Champions in 2022/23. Mike’s tenure as General Manager is the longest in the history of the franchise.

Aside from dynamic on-field action, fans have come to enjoy the many faces and characters that have epitomized a day at the ballpark in Buffalo since the early 90s. Beer vendors “The Earl of Bud,” who captivated fans with his dugout dance to the song “Tequilla”, and “Conehead” were ballpark staples alongside Buster T. Bison. In 2011, the Herd introduced the Wing, Cheese & Carrot mascot race and fans went wild as costumed charactered raced down the first base line.

Get Close to the Action in 2024

As mentioned, opening Day 2024 is set for Friday, March 29 against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders at 2:05 p.m. The 2024 season is loaded with promotional highlights including fan-favorite theme nights such as Star Wars Night, Independence Eve, Marvel’s Defenders of the Diamond Night, and much more. Whether you’ve been catching games with us for the past 40+ years or planning your first visit to the ballpark, the Bisons’ invite you to get close to the action and experience an affordable, family-friendly experience in the heart of the city. Check out all the events, promotions and reserve your tickets here!