Buffalo Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski speaking at Hall of Fame Day
Photos courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons
Mike Buczkowski’s office at Coca Cola Park overlooks a meticulously manicured green field, which is being cared for by an award-winning grounds crew hours before a recent Buffalo Bisons baseball game. This year, Buczkowski celebrates his twenty-fifth anniversary as general manager—the longest-tenured GM in the nearly 150 seasons of Buffalo baseball. Booch, as everyone refers to him, looks over the field and begins to reflect on when the ballpark was built in the 1980s.
He tells the story of “The Park that Jimmy Built,” from a true insider’s perspective. The late James D. “Jimmy” Griffin was Buffalo’s iconic four-term mayor, responsible for leading the fight to build the $56-million downtown ballpark, working closely with Bison owners, Bob Rich, Jr. and his dad, the late Robert E. Rich, founder of Rich Products, Corp., a $3.6-billion privately held multinational food products corporation headquartered in Buffalo.
Buczkowski’s family is from Griffin’s home turf of South Buffalo, and Mike’s late father, Stan, was a member of his administration. “I remember sitting around a table with my dad and listening to the mayor talk about the importance of building this ballpark and what it will do for the revitalization of downtown Buffalo. He kept saying how they just had to start digging the hole and putting up steel beams and then it can never be stopped,” Buczkowski recalls.
“The Mayor faced opposition from many different groups, including the Common Council, but Jimmy was a fighter and he was determined. He often spoke of his fondness for the Rich family and how they were with him during this fight,” he continues. “This ballpark, when it opened in 1988, was probably one of the first public-private projects of its size in city history.
“Together, along with state funding and former Governor Mario Cuomo’s support, they accomplished something many said would never occur.”
A quarter century later, Buczkowski and his hardworking, enthusiastic, and creative front office team still look forward to the Herd’s opening home stand in April, maybe even more than youngsters anticipate the arrival of Christmas Day or the start of Hanukah.
Buczkowski says Bison associates spend all winter creating plans for the upcoming Triple A season and as the calendar nears April, excitement builds as they work on preparing the thirty-one-year-old ballpark for another season. The City of Buffalo owns the facility, but the team is responsible for all operations of the International League’s oldest ballpark. The team and Mayor Byron Brown enjoy a similar relationship as it did with Griffin.
Our extended winter caused seven straight postponements due to weather after the Herd played its first two games of the opening home stand in early April.
“Baseball is meant to be played every day and our staff prepares for the season just like our players so having that stretch of no games was a challenge to all of us,” Buczkowski explains.
With the team now in the heart of its season, the vice president/GM is excited about its relationship with the Toronto Blue Jays and the creativity of his staff, which continue to offer fans new, exciting changes at the ballpark.
“Being with the Blue Jays has been great for us, because so many new fans are coming from Southern Ontario to watch the Jays of the future. Our best events are when we have our die-hard baseball fans seated near families of parents and grandparents with kids who are here for the giveaway, the Friday Night Bash fireworks, or a special event, such as Star Wars Night, Superhero Night, or Key Bank Independence Eve Celebration,” he says with extreme pride.
Booch also credits the success of the Bisons, considered one of the premier franchises in professional baseball, to its ownership team of Bob and Mindy Rich.
“The fans may not see them at the ballpark as often as they did in the past because, as chair and vice chair of Rich, they are travelling around the world on business. With our games live on the internet, they are watching wherever they are, and we hear from them before, during, and after every game. They are great owners, and they are great for the city of Buffalo,” he adds. “Mindy is always challenging us to come up with new, innovative ways to improve the fan’s experience at the ballpark.”
Buczkowski says that has become extremely important these days because fans have many choices for entertainment in a revitalized Buffalo.
“We must be cognizant of what we do have here—the national pastime, played outdoors on a beautiful green grass field. That makes us unique to the other venues in the city,” he adds. “The game itself is what is important. We are watching Major League Baseball stars of the future.”
For information about upcoming games, visit bisons.com.
Michael J. Billoni is a storyteller and publisher.