By: Brian Frank
Ernie Young stood in the tunnel behind home plate at Sahlen Field and reflected on some of the greatest seasons of the Bisons modern era. Young, who starred for the Herd in 2004 and 2005, was back in Buffalo to throw out the first pitch before the Bisons Opening Day tilt with the Iowa Cubs. As he gazed out at the field where he helped create so many indelible moments, he spoke with The Herd Chronicles about his time playing for the Herd.
“You know, it’s so weird when you're in Triple-A because everybody wants to get to the big leagues, everybody wants to be in the big leagues, everybody thinks they should be in the big leagues – but one thing that stood out about our team was that we did everything together,” he said. “We stayed in the clubhouse, we played cards, we talked, we got to know each other, we got to know each other’s families. We would have barbeques on Sundays or after a day game. So it was about more than just baseball with that 2004 team - we were actually really good friends.”
Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Young. Photo Courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons Baseball Club.
Young had a monster year for the Herd in 2004, slashing .299/.368/.551 with 27 home runs. He also became only the third Bisons player of the team’s modern era (1985 to present) to record 100 RBI in a season, joining Alex Ramirez (103 in 1998) and Brian Dorsett (102 in 1992). He reached the century mark by belting a three-run home run on the final day of the regular season in Rochester.
“Getting it on a three-run homer was very nice,” he smiled.
After winning the International League North by a whopping ten games, Buffalo faced a tough Durham team in the first round of the 2004 Governors’ Cup playoffs. The Bulls won the first two games of the best-of-five series in Durham, but an undeterred Bisons squad rebounded to win all three games in downtown Buffalo and advance to the championship round.
“The thing that stood out about that first round is that we really never got down,” Young remembered. “We knew that we had played well all season and if we can just win one game just to stay in it, then there will be a tomorrow and that’s all we were really concentrating on. Just win this game right here and not worry about anything else.”
Bisons fans remember the championship round against the Richmond Braves well – because every game of the series was played in Buffalo. The league office moved the entire series to Buffalo because Hurricane Ivan was bringing severe weather to Richmond.
“Yeah, that we got to play all the games at home – that was outstanding. In fact I was just talking to the Royals general manager J.J. Picollo, who was in the Braves organization during that time and we actually talked about that – this was just last week. He said, ‘Man, I wonder if the outcome would have been different if we were able to play some games in Richmond.’” Young paused and then said with a hearty laugh, “I said, ‘Probably not!’”
Young has fond memories of his manager while he played for the Herd – Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Marty Brown. “He kept everybody loose but he also held the players accountable for what they needed to do on the field and off the field – and what a great guy to lead our ball club.”
Young crushing a ball in downtown Buffalo. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Bisons Baseball Club.
Young returned to Buffalo in 2005 and had another big season. He slashed .277/.392/.466 with 20 home runs and 78 RBI and helped lead the Bisons to their second consecutive I.L. North crown.
Unfortunately, the team wasn’t unable to replicate their previous playoff success. Things looked bright when they won the first two games of their first-round playoff series in Indianapolis, but they dropped three in a row in Buffalo to end what had been a promising season. Young wasn’t himself during the series due to a back injury.
“I kind of took that playoff series hard,” he said. “I think if I had been healthy, I think our team would have been better and gone on and won another championship. I think the back injury that I had – and I don’t like to make excuses – but it really hurt the team. It hurt the middle of the order. It’s still something I think about now because you always want to be at your best but you also want to be out there and give what you can give to help the team win.”
Young played in 288 major-league games with the Oakland A’s, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers, and Cleveland Indians. He also won a gold medal playing for Team USA at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
“That experience was an experience of a lifetime,” he said. “To go out there with odds technically stacked against us and no one really giving us a chance. To go out there and compete, yet alone win the gold medal. It goes to show you that hard work, competitiveness, playing for your country – it all pays off. We went out there and we played with a chip on our shoulder because we knew that no one was giving us a chance, so we were behind each other one hundred percent every game.”
The Olympic experience was also a treat for Young because he was able to play for one of baseball’s all-time great managers – Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda.
“I got to know Tommy – rest in peace. He was a character. He was one of those managers that got the best out of you, but he also allowed the coaches to do their jobs to get that little extra out of you as well.”
Young is now a scout for the New York Mets organization. He’s also remained involved with the U.S. national team.
“This past summer I was hitting coach/bench coach for Mike Scioscia on the USA team. We lost to Japan 2-0 in the gold medal game. It was bittersweet. It was great that I had the opportunity to not only scout for the New York Mets, but also they allowed me to go and be the hitting coach for the Olympic team. It was great. I just wish that we had pulled it off. That would have really been something to talk about – to win a gold medal as a coach and win a gold medal as a player.”
Young after throwing out the first pitch at Sahlen Field on Opening Day. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
In 2013, Young was honored for his accomplishments while playing for the Herd, when he was inducted into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame. The experience of being inducted and returning to the Queen City brought back great memories of playing in Buffalo – just as this past week has done.
“That was a great accomplishment - it was something I’d never thought about,” he said as he smiled looking out at the field. “Coming here to Buffalo brought back a lot of memories. Just getting off the plane, getting to the hotel, driving past the stadium – and saying you know what, that was fun. That was a fun time playing here. The fans were great. They got to know you. Our players did a lot of stuff in the community. So it was good… it was good.”