Saturday, May 24, 2008

Big league experiences

Saturday's news that Buffalo may be getting an arenafootball2 expansion franchise probably brought some smirks in the community. After all, this is a town that's used to seeing some of the best athletes in the world in the National Football League and National Hockey League. It's a tough sell to convince those same fans to see minor league events, no matter what the ticket price.

But I've had some funny times over the years at such games. Here are three examples:

* In 1976, a women's pro softball league was started up. Three friends and I piled in a car and drove from Clarence to Eden for a game. I'm not sure we knew at that point exactly where Eden was, but we made it for the double-header. Joan Joyce was the main attraction, as she was the best-known player in the country around that time.

I think the Chicago Ravens and Buffalo Breskis split the twin-bill. What I remember though, is lingering around the Chicago bench with my friends and starting up a 5-to-10 minute conversation with the Chicago manager. She couldn't have been nicer to us. When we were done, one of my friends said, "Can you imagine Tommy Lasorda doing that between games?" Another replied, "Actually, I could."

* In 1984, the Buffalo Storm tried its luck in the United Soccer League. The team had some players who were on the Buffalo Stallions' indoor team, and who needed some spending money in the summer. The games were played at All-High Stadium. A friend and I had press passes, earning us the chance to climb up a steep ladder without railings to get to the unsteady roof of the stadium. It was a nice view but not a climb I'd take now that I'm past 50.

Anyway, Buffalo was playing a New York team that was essentially sponsored by that city's Greek community. The coach had been suspended and was back in New York. One of the New York team's assistants, or interns, or something, sat next to us. He did play-by-play -- in Greek -- back to the coach on the phone. At halftime, the coach dictated some notes on what to do in the second half. The assistant ran down, told the team what to do, and came back to the press box to continue his commentary. I don't think it helped.

* The Buffalo Rapids were around for a couple of basketball seasons in one form or another a little while back. I attended their first game, which was played at Buffalo State College. It was loud, and there wasn't much defense played, but the basketball wasn't too bad. So when a friend had some free tickets a few weeks later, my wife and I went. The team's playing facility had been downsized to the gym at the Park School, and less than 100 of us jammed in (trust me, it couldn't have held many more) to watch the game. I even won a free t-shirt -- a medium, so I gave to a co-worker who still wears it with pride.

The funny part came after the game. During the game, the team announced that if the Rapids won, all ticket-holders were entitled to a free dessert at area Denny's restaurants. The team lived up to its share of the bargain. So my group headed to Denny's for that ice cream sundae. Problem: no one at Denny's had heard of that promotion. Heck, they hadn't heard of the Rapids. And you almost could see the Park School from the restaurant -- it was about two-tenths of a mile. We could have walked there. Dessert was good, but a bit more expensive than I would have liked.

The minor league of a minor league may be a tough sell in Buffalo, but I'll have to check it out at least once if it plays. Might get some good memories there.

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