Coca-Cola Field: America’s best minor league ballpark
blog by Ben Kirst • August 08, 2011 @ 10:42am
When I was a lad in the late 1980s, there was a brief if not somewhat magical period of time when people around Western New York really believed we were getting a Major League Baseball expansion franchise (see excellent article from BuffaloWins.com here). Bob Rich had the cash, Jimmy Griffin built the stadium and the fans—oh, the fans!—turned out by the millions to show baseball’s power brokers that we meant business.
Of course, it was not meant to be. Regardless of the attendance, sociological trends could not be denied and Denver and Miami, two growing cities with frothy corporate communities, received the new teams. The Rockies and Marlins entered the league in 1993. By the time MLB was ready to expand again, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Phoenix were clearly the sensible options for new franchises and the Buffalo market had been priced out of a skyrocketing financial model that routinely shot ballplayer salaries into the tens of millions of dollars.
At least we got a sweet stadium out of the deal! In fact, m.Complex.com—the mobile component of the bro mag catering to an audience obsessed with music, sneakers, technology and breasts— named Coca-Cola Field as its Coolest Minor League Ballpark in America. Its rationale?
“Another major league city with a minor league club, Buffalo has the distinction of being the precursor to today’s wave of retro-modern ballparks. The firm that designed Camden Yards (the first of the throwback major league stadiums) designed the Bisons home as well, and it actually opened four years before Oriole Park. Coca-Cola Field is downtown, with the attendant skyline rising behind its grandstand, but it’s the coolest minor league park in the land (and cooler than a lot of major league parks, we gotta say), because of its fans: just like Philly, Boston, or Yankee fans, but both rowdier and friendlier, and better at holding their liquor.”
Well, how nice! I have to say that I rarely see any rowdies at Pilot Field (it will always be Pilot Field to me) but I agree that the drunkenness seems to be of the contemplative rather than aggressive kind. I usually go to about 10 games a year, so here are my quick notes to get the most out of the experience:
1.) If you are serious about getting a foul ball, sit in front of the press box, front row, directly behind home plate. Less competition and between 5 to 10 fouls either go straight up the net and hop the concrete lip or richochet off of the press box itself each game. You might get lucky out behind first or third base, closer to the bullpen areas, but the press box club seats are gold.
2.) Get the best value for your beer dollar and buy the 22-oz. cans on the first base side of the stadium. It’s about a dollar more than a cup of beer, but you get about 6 extra ounces. Well worth it. If you’re a real drunken scumbag, you can probably smuggle in a fifth of liquor and dump it into a soda container in the bathroom, but at that point, you’re an alcoholic, so cut it out.
3.) Best food value: peanuts. For $3.50, you get a giant bag of peanuts that should last a good three or four innings. Plus, you get to make a huge mess with little to no social stigma. AWESOME.
4.) You do realize that you can buy a general admission ticket and sit pretty much anyplace you want, right? Just don’t be a jerk if someone wants to sit in their actual seats.
5.) If you haven’t been to a game this year, please note that the speed gun is now on the scoreboard, not on the sign out in left field.
6.) Duke McGuire is the man. He is the Bisons’ radio color commentator and he is basically a walking baseball stereotype in the best way possible. He’s a big, ruddy guy who played his share of minor league ball and has been with the organization in Buffalo for the past 30 years. McGuire is funny, smart and a little sharp at times, but he’s still the kind of guy you’d want to crack open a few with on a hot summer day in the stands.
Hey, there’s no shame in taking in a game alone from time to time—not everyone can skip out of work/familial obligations on the same schedule—so if you find yourself heading to the park solo, pack up your trusty AM radio and tune into 1520 to give The Duke a listen. If you see Mr. McGuire, tell him he’s the man. Ben Wagner? You’re OK, but you still have to earn it.