This is the fifth in a series of six articles where by the end of August I will have visited all six of the Indians minor league affiliates in seven weeks. I'll recap each stop in Winter Haven, Mahoning Valley, Lake County, Kinston, Akron and Buffalo with a short writeup consisting mostly of video and pictures, and also write several separate articles on players I talk to during my visit.A little over a week ago, I took the two and a half hour trek on Interstate 90 from Cleveland to Buffalo to catch the Cleveland Indians Triple-A affiliate the Buffalo Bisons in action. Having actually never been to Dunn Tire Park before to see the Bisons, the experience was something I looked forward to.
The trip ended up being my fifth stop on my minor league road trip, with a sixth and final stop to Kinston looming this weekend. Prior to the stop in Buffalo, in the past six weeks I have also stopped in to visit the Indians rookie-level GCL team, short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley, Single-A Lake County, and Double-A Akron.The stadium setup and gameday operations are about as close as you get to a real major league experience, which obviously makes sense since it is Triple-A. Still, there is a decided difference in the operations in Triple-A and Double-A, where there is not much different from Double-A and Single-A. The two-deck stadium, open indoor batting cages, street-wide tunnel underneath the stands, and clubhouse all give it a major league feel, which is something the other levels lack. Also, in the press box, you have official scorer announcements and game notes blasted over the PA the entire game, which does not happen at the other levels. The press box was a two-row tiered setup, much larger than the other venues, with several media types in attendance as well as the Minor League Baseball Gameday stat stringer.
I arrived at the park about three hours early, and went up to the team offices to meet up with Brad Bisbing, who is the media relations contact for the team. Here are some pictures inside the team offices reception area:From there, we went down to the clubhouse and I had a chance to sit down and talk with several players like Ben Francisco, Aaron Laffey, Ryan Mulhern and Brian Barton. I wrote feature articles on Laffey, Mulhern and Barton this past weekend, and if you missed them you can read them by clicking on the hyperlink shown with their name above.Of note, this is clearly the most advanced level in the minors, as it is the final hurdle for most players in getting to the majors leagues. Having already visited Double-A Akron, Single-A Lake County and rookie-level GCL, the players are nowhere near as raw, more chiseled with the physique, and look stronger at the plate, on the mound and in the field.After speaking with the players and talking to Amy Moritz of The Buffalo News for awhile, I ventured through the clubhouse and into the Bisons' first base dugout and toured the facility and the field. Here are some pictures of the walk through the tunnel from the clubhouse to the dugout:Once on the field, I walked around and took several pictures from field level at various points of view. Here is a video showing a 360 degree view of Dunn Tire Park from the first base dugout:Video 1: Insider view of Dunn Tire ParkHere are a bunch of pictures of the outside of the stadium:Here here are some pictures of the inside of the stadium:
Here are some shots of the Bisons' dugout:And, here are two shots of the retired numbers on the wall, and the division titles and leage championships on the left field wall:Infielder Luis Rivas had been on the disabled list and was doing some workouts with the trainer before the game to see if he was ready to be activated. Here are some pictures of him running cones in the outfield:
The pitchers worked out before the game, talking with pitching coach Scott Radinsky. Here are some pictures (scroll over the picture for the name of the player):I hung around for pre-game warm-ups, and caught Jeremy Sowers warming up in the bullpen. Here is a video of Sowers in the bullpen warming up:Video 1: Jeremy Sowers warming upAnd, here are some pictures of Sowers warming up and in the game:
Several players stretched before the game and warmed up. Players like Andy Marte, Ben Francisco, Brian Barton, Ryan Mulhern, Joe Inglett and others are shown below:
Outfielder Ben Francisco is having a great year at Buffalo, even though he has missed about six weeks of games because he was called up to Cleveland. Even still, he is hitting .322 with 9 HR and 44 RBI in 85 games, and is leading the International League in hitting. Here is a video of Francisco at the plate:Video 1: Ben Francisco at the plateHere are some pictures of Francisco in action:First baseman Ryan Mulhern is having a great debut season in Triple-A this year, hitting .304 with 16 HR and 73 RBI in 120 games. Here are two videos of Mulhern at the plate, with one of them a shot of him hitting a home run to dead center field:Video 1: Mulhern at the plateVideo 2: Mulhern hits a home runHere are some pictures of Mulhern in action:Outfielder Brian Barton is still one of the great success stories in the Indians organization. He has gone from being an undrafted free agent signing in 2004, to one of the top prospects in the system and is now on the cusp of getting a chance in the major leagues. Barton is hitting .309 with 10 HR and 63 RBI in 121 combined games at Akron and Buffalo. Here is a video of him at the plate:Video 1: Barton at the plateHere are some pictures of Barton in action:Outfielder Jason Cooper is Mr. Bison these days, as he is in the top ten in several offensive categories in Buffalo history. Cooper has been in Buffalo for three seasons now, and has developed a strong following as the fans adore him there. It remains to be seen if Cooper sticks with the organization after this season as he will be a minor league free agent in the offseason, but there is a possibility he could return to Buffalo again in 2008. Here is a video of Cooper at the plate:Video 1: Cooper at the plateSome pictures of Cooper in action:Third baseman Andy Marte has had a lost season, as he started the year as the Cleveland Indians starting third baseman, struggled early on and got hurt, and has been in Buffalo since May. He is only hitting .248 with 14 HR and 50 RBI in 84 games at Buffalo, and with him being out of options next year he is a player who may be on the outs with the organization. Here are some pictures of Marte in action:And, finally, here are some various pictures of the dugout:Overall, the trip to Buffalo is well worth it for any fan within three to four hours driving distance from Buffalo. Dunn Tire Park is perfectly placed in downtown Buffalo, and the Interstate 190 overpass can be viewed just outside the outfield walls and beyond the scoreboard. Also, the skyscrapers in the city peer over the light towers all around the stadium. Just a great game experience that any baseball fan would enjoy. I'll certainly be back in Buffalo much more next year as I make my rounds around the system covering the various farm affiliates for the Indians.Next up, my sixth and final affiliate visit this weekend when I travel to Kinston, North Carolina to see the Indians advanced Single-A affiliate the Kinston Indians in action. I saved the best for last, as this is the one visit I have looked forward to all along. And, seeing how this is the one affiliate in the system not easily accessible for Tribe fans, I hope during my weekend stay I can bring home to the fans what Kinston and the stadium are like, and of course talk to several players and coaches and do feature articles on them.