* Buffalo Bills coach Red Ryan threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Coca-Cola Field to kick off the Buffalo Bisons season bringing back memories of another opener he attended at a teenager — the first game in Blue Jays history at Exhibition Stadiun. Photos: Alexis Brudnicki.
By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
BUFFALO, NY – After throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Buffalo Bisons season opener on Thursday, Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan was nostalgic about another Opening Day, one he remembers vividly despite being almost four decades ago.
When the Toronto Blue Jays hosted their first game in franchise history, matching up against the Chicago White Sox on April 7, 1977, the then-14-year-old and his twin brother Rob – currently the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints – snuck into Exhibition Stadium.
“We were there early and they were having batting practice,” Ryan said. “My brother and I got like 20 baseballs or something because there were no bleachers in right field. So they’d hit a home run and the thing would just go forever, and we would go pocket them. I forget how many baseballs we got but we got a bunch of them.”
Growing up in Toronto and spending eight years of their lives in Ontario’s capital, the Oklahoma-born brothers felt the excitement in the air for that game. Fortunately for the teenaged sports fans, that feeling overtook any other, as they braved a variety of weather huddled up in the bleacher seats with plenty of other fans who didn’t mind the cold.
“I’ve seen a lot of baseball games,” Ryan said. “Obviously I am a big baseball fan. But I remember Doug Ault hitting the two homers. I skipped school that day with my twin brother – not that that was going to hurt the GPA or anything – but I remember it had every kind of weather known to man. It snowed, it did everything.”
Of course, the Ryan brothers stayed for the duration of that inaugural Blue Jays matchup, and savoured every moment of it. Rex fondly recalled some of the moments that stood out most for him during the press conference at Coca-Cola Field that followed his somewhat wild pitch to open the International League season in Buffalo.
“I remember Alvis Woods hitting a home run in his first major-league at-bat,” the 18th head coach in Bills history said. “Bill Singer [started] and he was like me. He was a little inconsistent when he started that game. The ball was going all over the place. Richie Zisk … hit the home run.
“But I remember the Blue Jays winning and it was a great game. It really was. And probably the most memorable game that I’ve ever been at because of the significance of it, being the first-ever Blue Jays game.”
More than 38 years later, Ryan enjoyed adding his own Opening Day appearance – his second time tossing from a regulation mound after throwing out a ceremonial pitch at a New York Mets game in June of 2010 – in his new home city.
“I was thrilled when the Bisons asked me to throw out the first pitch,” he said. “That’s really an honour. It really is. I probably should have practiced a little more, but it is a great thrill and I appreciate the Bisons.”