Triple-A Buffalo switches affiliation

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Paul Beeston needs no introduction to Buffalo.

The Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO grew up just across the border in Welland, Ontario, and still remembers attending minor league baseball games at Buffalo's former War Memorial Stadium in the 1950s.

Starting next year, Beeston will get to see his Triple-A prospects playing at a downtown ballpark after the Blue Jays formally signed a two-year affiliation agreement with the International League Buffalo Bisons on Friday.

"This is a journey for me that's gone on a long time," Beeston said. "We want to be here for years. This is a start of not a two-year deal, but hopefully the start of a 42-year deal. You can count on us to do our best to make you proud."

After four years playing in Las Vegas after their departure from Syracuse, the Blue Jays' top minor-league affiliate is back in upstate New York. And as much as the Blue Jays enjoyed their 30-year stay in Syracuse, Beeston regards the move to Buffalo as a more natural fit between two cities 100 miles apart.

"The ties between Buffalo and Toronto are very, very strong," Beeston said. "And, hopefully, we can make them stronger."

Those ties include Beeston's longtime relationship with Bisons' owners Bob and Mindy Rich. It's a friendship that began in the 1980s, when Beeston and the Blue Jays provided assistance in the Rich's failed bid to lure a major league baseball franchise to Buffalo.

"We're very excited for the opportunity not just for Buffalo but for Toronto and for a cross-border alliance," Bob Rich said. "And, to tell you the truth, I don't like changing franchises anymore. I'd like to be with these guys and let this be the last team we're with."

The Bisons spent the past four years being affiliated with the New York Mets before essentially allowing that agreement to expire.

Negotiations between the Jays and Bisons opened on Sunday morning, and the deal announced two days later, a day after The Mets announced that they were relocating their Triple-A team to Las Vegas.

Beeston envisions numerous marketing opportunities, including the possibility of the Blue Jays playing exhibition games in Buffalo.

Among those on hand for the news conference included Blue Jays Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, former Cy Young pitcher Pat Hentgen and former manager Cito Gaston.

There's already one sports tie between the two cities. Toronto-based Rogers Communications, which owns the Blue Jays, has had a five-year deal to have the NFL's Buffalo Bills play annual regular season games in Toronto.

The deal expires after this season, though Rogers vice chairman Phil Lind said Friday that the announcement of an extension will be announced soon.