Coca-Cola Field – Buffalo Bisons
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Hear that Bison Thunder
Back in the mid 80s, Buffalo was making a real and very serious pitch to Major League Baseball to be designated for one of the expansion teams being awarded to bring MLB up to 30 teams. A ballpark was designed, and constructed, with architecture and feel that had never been seen anywhere else in baseball. The retro look was born, and was emulated in countless new major and minor league stadiums built throughout the 1990s.
Pilot Field opened its doors in 1988, a 19,500-seat gem which could easily be expandable to 41,000 seats once a major league team came. That dream never happened, and today, what is known as Coca-Cola Field is one of the oldest ballparks in AAA baseball, but still one of the gems.
Food & Beverage 5
Great ballpark cuisine has always been a staple at the Buffalo ballpark, and there is a vast array of culinary delights available. For local specialties, try the Red Osier Beef on Weck sandwich, or the Fried Bologna and Onions sandwich. With the arrival of the Toronto Blue Jays as their major league affiliate in 2013, the Bisons have added that great Canadian treat poutine, (fries, gravy and cheese curds) to the specialty menu ($6.50 for an outsized serving).
The team also sells a variety of local craft beers. This is in addition to the local meat packing companies, Sahlen’s and Wardynski’s which produce hot dogs which are a real treat. Sit down casual dining service is available at Pettibone’s Restaurant on the mezzanine level.
The best game day atmosphere is experienced when the ballpark is full. With a capacity of 18,025 that can be a challenge at times. The team runs an annual Star Wars night in June, which sells out early, and the Independence Eve celebration on July 3 with the Buffalo Philharmonic is also an anticipated event.
But for the most part the team averages about 7,000 in the stands, and that looks pretty desolate in such a big ballpark. In recent years, the team has shrunk capacity, removing bleachers and some seating areas and installing party decks instead. There are plans for future shrinkage of the ballpark.
The Bisons also added a spectacular high definition video board in 2011, along with LED side information boards, to enhance the gameday experience. The graphics and video presentation are top notch and rival anything delivered in a Major League ballpark.
Downtown Buffalo is hopping. Cranes are in the air everywhere, and directly south of the ballpark, the new Canalside neighborhood continues to bustle, with the new HarborCenter, replica canals, a central wharf along the riverfront, and plenty of private development making this a hopping destination.
Around the ballpark, check out Irish Times, Washington Square Tavern, or Pearl Street Grill and Brewery as good eateries and drink destinations for before and after the game. 716 Sports Bistro opens at HarborCenter in the fall of 2014 and will be the happening place to visit.
The Bisons maintain a season ticket base of over 4,000 subscribers. The team is far removed from their first few seasons downtown, when the push was on for major league expansion and the gate attendance topped over 1-million for each of the first six years. Nonetheless the team draws well and is ranked among the best fan support among its International League peers. The Bisons have had a presence in Buffalo baseball history going back as far as the 1870s, including a brief stint in the National League from 1879 to 1885.
For a downtown venue, parking is ample. The stadium’s main ramp is just beyond right field, and plenty of surface parking and other downtown ramps are just a short walk away. Meters on the streets are not monitored evenings or weekends. In addition, the Metro Rail light rail line connects downtown with the northern part of the city, and fans can ride the rail and exit at the Seneca Station a block away from the ballpark. Riding the Metro Rail is free in the downtown portion of the line.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets are priced from $7-$13. The team runs almost a ridiculous number of discounts including their Markdown Monday, 4-pack deals and other inducements to buy tickets. Concession prices are reasonable. Bisons baseball is a total entertainment bargain. The team is owned locally by one of Buffalo’s oldest and most respected families, Bob Rich Jr., owner of Rich Products, a frozen food company. His commitment to the fans of Buffalo is solid and unshakable.
One star for the Bisons mascot race, known as the “WCC,” or “Wing, Cheese and Celery.” Four mascots, named Wing, Atomic Wing, Bleu Cheese and Celery, reflect Buffalo’s great culinary gift to the world, and race for bragging rights. So far, Wing has emerged as the evil cheater, and Celery is winless through two seasons and counting. The drama continues to unfold. It’s great fun.
One star for the super electronics and video presentation. The folks who produce and run the entertainment and music and video clips are top notch.
One star for the statue of Jimmy Griffin outside of Coca-Cola Field, erected to honor the former mayor of Buffalo. Coca-Cola Field is sometimes called, “The House that Griffin Built.”
One star for raising the bar for cutting edge stadium design. Think retro and most baseball fans and stadium travelers would blurt out, “Camden Yards.” Not so. Buffalo’s ballpark opened a full year before Baltimore’s baseball jewel. The city shared its story to the world as host of the first ever AAA All Star Game held in 1988, and the team hosted the 25th All-Star Game in 2012, another successful event shown on national television and attended by a packed house of 18,025 fans.
Buffalo’s dream of being a major league baseball city will in all likelihood never happen. Too small a market, not enough TV ratings, and not enough corporations to sponsor gates and buy the suites. But make no mistake, Buffalo is a great baseball town. Its traditions go back across three centuries. Their ballpark is amongst the best in the minor leagues. They have stable ownership committed to the Game, great fans, and a pleasant game day experience. And the story continues to unfold and grow in Buffalo.