BUFFALO, N.Y. - If you've been to a Bisons game in the last 30 years, you know Mark Aichinger.
By every definition of the word, Mark is a super-fan.
Where does he rank in the pantheon of wild fans?
"He's at the top of the list for sure," said Bisons pitcher Casey Lawrence.
Mark is a fixture at Bisons home games.
"He's been an icon there for so many years that I think when he's not there. It's like, 'Where is he? What happened? Is something wrong with Mark?'," added Mark's sister, Barb Fermo.
Barb is one of Mark's six siblings. But in all the years, she's only been to one game with him.
"He goes to the games by himself. He likes keeping score. He hollers at the pitchers."
Ah, yes. Mark's trademark. And, a favorite of former Bison great Jeff Manto.
"I love when he sticks his arm up and tells a player he stinks," Manto joked. "They try to ignore him, but he gets in their head."
Yep. Mark's heckling actually has an impact on the field.
"It's definitely a home-field advantage when you've got him in the stands," added Lawrence.
"In very few instances can fans becomes a part of the ballpark experience or the game experience, and Mark has certainly done that," said Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski.
Anthony Sprague is the Bisons assistant general manager and director of sales. He's been friends with Mark since Anthony was an intern with the team.
"To do that, with the cards that he's been dealt, is what I think endears him to everybody around him."
Mark wasn't dealt the best hand.
He's mentally and physically handicapped. He's legally blind and he's deaf in his right ear. His mother suffers from Alzheimer's. And, a couple years ago, Mark lost his job at the Olmsted Center.
He's still looking for work. But in the meantime, you can find Mark at the ballpark - his home base.
Well, four rows behind it.
"Going off to Bisons games, that's his escape," Barb said.
His favorite place with some of his favorite people, including Smolka family, who met Mark more than 10 years ago and now consider him one of their own.
"He's just taught my boys a lot about people and respect," said Linda Smolka.
"That bond, I cant describe, that exists. And he's like one of my kids, so I love him to death," added Jim Smolka.
As for Mark's favorite Bison of all-time, that would be former player and manager Torey Lovullo.
So, we surprised Mark with a personal video message from Torey:
"What's up, Mark. It's your friend Torey Lovullo. Just wanted to say thank you for making my time in Buffalo a little bit better. Obviously, that town is very very important to me, and the years spent there would not have been the same without you, man. I love you and I look forward to seeing you soon. Have a good one."
That's the effect Mark has on people.
"I challenge anyone to find a friend and fan like Mark," said Sprague. "I don't think they exist."
So, next time you're at the ballpark and you hear that guy yelling in Section 102, Row D, Seat 15.
Say hello. Spend a minute. You might get a hug or a lifelong friend.
Either way, that's Mark.
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