BY MICHAEL MROZIAK firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — He’s a familiar face to his new peers within the Buffalo Bisons organization, having led some of the Class AAA baseball team’s International League rivals over the years.
More importantly for the Bisons, Gary Allenson will be a familiar face to some of the young Toronto Blue Jays prospects that are strong candidates to settle in Buffalo for further development this season.
Allenson was named the Herd’s new manager earlier this week but was formally unveiled Thursday morning, first to media in a news conference and then to guests attending the team’s annual Hot Stove Luncheon in the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo.
“He brings a wealth of experience to us, which we know will be an asset for us,” said Bisons vice president and general manager Mike Buczkowski. “The Triple-A manager’s job could be the hardest job that you have in baseball.”
Allenson is entering his 20th season as a manager in minor league baseball. His managerial career began in 1987 with the Oneonta Yankees of the New York Penn League. He led the “O-Yanks” to a league title in 1988. His former managerial jobs also include eight seasons in the International League, first with Louisville from 1998 to 1999, Ottawa in 2003 and Norfolk from 2007 to 2011.
In between those jobs, he also served as a coach for three major league teams: the Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles.
Allenson joins the Bisons following a season as the manager for the Blue Jays’ Class AA team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League. It was there he worked with two players who are considered candidates to appear in a Bisons uniform this season, pitchers Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin.
“Marcus Stroman’s got a really good arm,” Allenson said. “(The ball) comes out of his hands really nice and easy. And it’s quick. He’s got really good composure, he’s got a nice slider...”
Regarding Nolin, Allenson noted: “He’s got four pitches, fastball, curve, slider, change. He needs to be pitching where he’s not predictable and not be afraid to throw off-speed in fastball counts, to get back in the count. He’s a guy who’s a bit of a perfectionist who needs to be a bit easier on himself when things aren’t going well.”
Last season the Bisons lost several key players, including Kevin Pillar, Ryan Goins and Anthony Gose, when they were called up to Toronto to address injury-related needs. The player moves left the Bisons with less depth as they still remained in contention for a playoff position. The team finished the 2013 season three games out of the International League’s wild card spot.
Allenson spoke of the pressures he’ll face to both win but also develop players that can head north to Toronto when needed.
“In the minor leagues we like to win, but you’ve got to develop players too,” he said. “That’s why you leave Sean Nolin in a game when he’s in a jam in the sixth inning, because you want to see him work out of it.
“It’s different in every game. You have your guys who are prospects out there that you know you’re going to leave out there. If it comes down to whether you’re going to develop a player or winning at the minor level, and you have to choose between one or the other, you’re going to develop the prospect.”
He will also face the task of replacing the popular Marty Brown, who resigned from the Bisons in late December. Brown is beloved by Buffalo baseball fans and was the skipper during the team’s last league championship back in 2004.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous, who appeared in Buffalo and spoke to media after Allenson’s remarks, said it quickly became clear to the team that promoting Allenson to replace Brown made the most sense.
“Having someone that’s been at this level, that’s won at this level, that’s been at the big league level and can get the respect of the players, it was nice to have an in-house candidate,” said Anthopolous. “It was a pretty easy decision.”
Before he was a manager and coach, Allenson was a catcher who spent six seasons in the American League, with the Boston Red Sox from 1979 to 1984 and then for 14 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1985.
In a town and region where Red Sox Nation’s numbers are growing, and are feeling more openly confident following a third World Series title since 2004, does Allenson still have a soft spot in his heart for the team that gave him his big league break?
“I don’t care about that anymore. I’m with the Blue Jays.”
A Blue Jay, now by way of the Bisons.