Earlier this season, several Buffalo Bisons players, including Ernie Clement, Davis Schneider, and Spencer Horwitz, would meet up on Sundays. With perpetual off days on Mondays, the gaggle of minor-leaguers would mosey to Elmwood Avenue in downtown Buffalo for drinks and food.
Forty Thieves, one of the only bars open on Sundays, became the watering hole of choice. Clement would order wings and a cold Blue Light — “The Buffalo Special,” he called it.
Eventually, these casual outings became an important tradition.
“In order to have a successful and close-knit team, a team that's all on the same page, I think we need to hang out outside of the field,” Clement said. “The best way to do that is to just go grab a beer after a game or go grab dinner with them, whatever it may be. It's so important.”
Clement is just 27 years old, but he carries a veteran’s disposition, and compared to Schneider and Horwitz, he’s got some scars in the game. Before signing a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays last offseason, Clement bounced around the bigs, debuting with Cleveland in 2021 and then doing a quick stint in Oakland.
As Clement hopped between the Guardians and their Triple-A affiliate in Columbus, he soaked everything up. Cleveland’s veterans, particularly catcher Austin Hedges, emphasized the importance of stepping away from the game and just having fun, especially when the club was struggling in the win-loss column. This way, guys made memories that extended beyond the chalked lines.
“That's the route to a lot of these teams’ success,” Clement said. “You’ll see teams that might not have the highest payroll or spend the most money in free agency, [and] a lot of the time, those good teams are really, really close.”
So, from the get-go, Clement fostered that brotherly environment for his younger (but only slightly younger) Triple-A teammates. Now, the "Buffalo Boys" trio of Clement, Horwitz, and Schneider are impacting the Blue Jays in unique, meaningful ways.
Horwitz has a keen eye and sneaky pop at the dish. Clement has a quick bat and an even quicker glove up the middle. And Schneider, a muscly rookie with a penchant for Ruthian home runs, hit for a 1.379 OPS through his first 15 major-league games, setting a modern-era record.
The Bisons were playing a road game Aug. 4 in Lehigh Valley, Pa., when Schneider made his Blue Jays debut at Fenway Park and homered in his first at-bat. Once the Buffalo club wrapped up its inning of defence, all the players rushed down the tunnel to watch a replay of Schneider’s majestic bomb over the Green Monster.
“We’ve got a lot invested,” said catcher Tyler Heineman, who has split time between the Blue Jays and Bisons in 2023. “It’s not always how it happens, but good people deserve good things to happen to them, I believe. Schneider is a class act, and for him to have this early success, I think there's really no one more deserving.”
The Bisons drew inspiration from each other’s success. Like a chain reaction, one Triple-A player would get called up, and it motivated the other guys to work harder.
“That's what I think makes a team so special, especially this time of the year,” Horwitz said. “You need to really be close together, be that band of brothers that have each other's backs, and compete for one another.”
It’s one thing to have a positive attitude on a major-league team, but life in the minors isn’t as glamorous. It’s a slog. And players rely on their teammates for vibrancy during those bus rides through dull cities or bland meals in run-down Triple-A clubhouses.
“It's a lot easier to be a good teammate and show up with a smile on your face when you have everything you could ever want,” said Horwitz. “[In the minors], you always have to be the same guy, no matter what the situation is.”
Clement’s guidance has been big, but for Horwitz, it’s been extra special to undertake the journey with a close friend like Schneider.
Schneider and Horwitz were roommates in Buffalo. They golf together when they have time. Horwitz said Schneider is “a stick” on the course and much better than him. Now they’re both manning the right side of the Blue Jays infield amid a September playoff race.
“[It’s been] everything I could ever imagine,” Horwitz said with a big smile on his face. “Joining this team in September, playing very meaningful baseball, it's been second to nothing. It's everything you dream of as a kid.”
And as Schneider and Horwitz keep thriving, Clement is vibing along with them, basking in the fun but also carrying a chip of pride, knowing his two younger teammates belong in the big leagues.
“They're just solid guys,” Clement said. “They weren't high draft picks. They have not been given anything. They have earned every single bit of success.
“It's not an accident that they're having a lot of success. It’s just really cool to see all that work paying off. They bust their ass; they bust their tail, so I'm just happy for them.”