Monday, August 3, 2015

Pawtucket Red Sox 2 at Buffalo Bisons 1 (International League) - August 2, 2015

Back in 2010, the World University Baseball Championship was held in Japan and I attended a few games. A fan back in Florida named Thomas contacted me and asked me to post pictures of Team USA because there was no coverage of the tournament stateside, and friends and family wanted to know how it was going. So I did just that, sending him some pics as well. As we corresponded, we became friendly and I found out that Thomas is very good friends with Brian Johnson, who was the youngest member of Team USA in 2010. Thomas was very grateful for the pictures I sent and he invited me to stop by the restaurant where he works in Cocoa Beach on one of my roadtrips.

A few months later I had a surprise trip to Florida and so I paid Thomas a visit. He asked Brian to come by and say hi, which he did and we chatted for a few minutes about his experiences in Japan. From that, I started following Brian's career. Sadly (for me at least, as a Toronto fan) he was drafted by Boston 31st overall in 2012 and moved up the system over the ensuing years, winning the organization's minor league pitcher of the year award in 2013.

This season, Brian started in AAA with Pawtucket and I tried to make plans to see him pitch, but minor league rotations are not reliably posted more than a day or two in advance in most cases, and I only had weekends in which to see him, most of which I spent doing my own road trips.

When he was called up to Boston in July, I was very happy and watched his start at Minute Maid Park on MLB.TV, cheering when he struck out the side in the 3rd inning. Unfortunately, he couldn't get out of the 4th and suffered a hard-luck loss but it was cool to see someone I had met make his major league debut. At that time I figured I would not have a chance to see him pitch in the minors, but in the end, things worked out.

Brian (above) was sent back down to Pawtucket to get some work in and I had scheduled a visit to Buffalo to see the PawSox on August 2nd, part of my six-day, eight-game trip to Toronto. Brian had pitched on Tuesday and some minor league clubs use a six-man rotation, so I did not expect to see him on Sunday, but for whatever reason, Brian drew the starting assignment. I couldn't believe how lucky I was and made sure to buy a good seat.

The Bisons had Canadian Jeff Francis (below) on the hill, making this one of the better pitching matchups you are going to see in the minor leagues, and it turned out to be a pretty good game.

Brian pitched three no-hit innings but gave up a walk and two singles to yield a run in the fourth. He was pulled after this having thrown only 60 pitches as the Red Sox are protecting him for his next call-up. Meanwhile, Francis threw 7 shutout frames, only to have Joba Chamberlain come in and walk the first two batters in the 8th, including Deven Marrero (below, who was Boston's 1st pick in 2012, 24th overall). Both runners scored and Pawtucket used four shutout innings from Dayan Diaz and a scoreless ninth from Noe Ramirez (4th, 2011) to escape with the win.

The Pawtucket offense took Brian off the hook and though I was disappointed to see a Toronto affiliate lose, it was a great afternoon to finally see him pitch live. I hope the next time is in the bigs!


My buddies Andrew and Peter from the Ultimate Sports Road Trip were at the game and we enjoyed a post-game meal at (716), a new sports bar that is part of the HarborCenter complex that is being constructed around the First Niagara Center. After that we took a tour of Canalside, another bright spot in Buffalo's burgeoning downtown core. If you still think Buffalo is a dead city, think again; it has again become a destination in its own right and if you haven't been in some time, paying a visit during the last month of the baseball season is as good a time as any.



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