Ballpark’s feature amenity now showcasing the Aud
It’s one of those stadium amenities that is easy to miss.
Right off the main concourse, close to section 107, there, in a space that was once a concession stand and then repurposed for storage, is a special area of Coca Cola Field. It is a must visit for any fan, young or old, who appreciates Buffalo sports and the rich and colorful history that this region boasts on the sporting stage.
“It is my pride and joy, and nothing is more special to me that seeing someone walk in here and having their face light up when they recognize some artifact and it brings back some special memory,” says John Boutet, who is the guiding force behind the Bisons’ Hall of Fame Room at Coca Cola Field.
Incredibly, the room is now in its fifth year of operation at the ballpark, and Boutet has been given the title of Curator and Archivist for the Buffalo Bisons. “I’m not the team historian, not I nor anyone else can ever fill Joe’s shoes”, said Boutet, paying homage to the late team historian Joe Overfield.
Boutet keeps a voluminous collection of Buffalo sports artifacts at his home, with more items in storage, a labor of love that began when he was a youngster attending NBA Buffalo Braves games in the 70s. “What you’re seeing here is not even five percent of the total collection, there’s far more that has yet to be put on display,” said Boutet. There are many items from not only the Sabres, but the Braves, and artifacts from the indoor soccer Buffalo Stallions, minor league hockey featuring the Buffalo Bisons and Buffalo Norsemen, Little 3 college basketball which dominated Buffalo’s sports scene for many a season, the boxing matches, the wrestling exhibitions, and even political rallies from presidents, not to mention a concert by The King himself, Elvis Presley. “There is not a building more beloved in Buffalo than the old Aud was,” said Boutet.
Setting up a permanent exhibit space at the ballpark came on the heels of several well received temporary exhibitions, with many of the museum quality artifacts spread out on little more than long tables in the concourse. “I approached (General Manager) Mike Buczkowski and told him that a lot of teams are dedicating space to history themed displays, and we’d like to do something here to showcase Buffalo baseball history and Bisons history,” said Boutet. “Bucz immediately said that was a great idea, and we only had to find a spot. Once we identified the space, it was a matter of putting in floors, showcases, cleaning up and prepping. We got it done in a few months and opened on Opening Day 2013.”
There is still a plan and a dream for a much bigger stage to present Buffalo sports to the public, a combined museum and hall of fame that would showcase Buffalo music, a broadcasters hall of fame and of course a sports museum. “Right now we have just signed a lease with Ellicott Development, with thanks to Carl Paladino, to open up just such an installation inside the Ellicott Square Building. We have teamed up with Hadley Exhibits, to do a ‘mini museum’ to put together these three themes. We’re hoping that we can spur further talk and discussion amongst the public and attract investors and benefactors to jump start a larger and more permanent facility. We’re hoping to have this up and running in a few months.”
One aspect of Coca Cola Field that Boutet has little control or say over is the presentation of Bisons history and memorabilia within the ballpark itself. Go to many of the ballparks in the International League, and you will find championship banners, massive black and white murals hanging high above the main entrances, showcases of great major leaguers who came through those parks. Other than a wall in left field highlighting the teams’ championships dating back to the 1800s, one is hard pressed to find anything presenting the franchise’s incredible history that started as a National League team in 1879.
One peer example, Columbus’ Huntington Park, is in its entirety a veritable museum to Columbus baseball and to minor league baseball itself. “It’s an area I’d like to try and tackle if asked,” said Boutet.
The Aud will be on full display through the end of July. “We’ll probably switch out in August to do something with this ballpark’s 30th anniversary come August, but please, everyone is welcome. Bring the kids, there’s lots to see and learn.”
AROUND THE BASES
Ace pitcher David Price’s rehab start for the Pawtucket Red Sox last Friday had the ballpark buzzing, with many fans arriving early and lining the field wall in search of an autograph, media from both Toronto and Boston as well as keeping local freelance scribes busy.
Price threw a lot of pitches, 65 over two innings, before leaving the mound as the then losing pitcher of record. The highlight, however, had to be the very first batter. The Bisons’ Jake Elmore swung at 15 pitches before lacing a double to start off the game. “I never had that, I don’t think, at any level in my entire life,” Price said. “I never had a 15-pitch at-bat. That was a really good at-bat.”