Former Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin was a lifelong baseball fan - and not a passive one, by any stretch.
A Buffalo supporter and advocate right until the day he died, Griffin enjoyed the frequent night out at the ballpark. First and foremost a fan, Griffin would take his seat in the stands with one particular goal, shared by many - catching a foul ball.
"He was a fan," Bisons general manager Mike Buczkowski said. "He loved baseball. He was here, a season-ticket holder, fighting to catch foul balls. If one was hit up there, he was going to catch it - a lot of times fighting with his brother."
Griffin - who passed away in 2008 - did all he could to further the presence of baseball in the city of Buffalo, going to great lengths in support of the city's push for a major league team - as well as in the development of Coca-Cola Field. Friday, on a windy late-summer afternoon in downtown Buffalo, with friends and family gathered just outside the ballpark on Washington Street, a tribute to the Buffalo lifer was unveiled:
A statue of Griffin, erected just outside the stadium gates, ready to forever greet the next generation of Bisons fans and patrons.
Slightly crouched, glove outstretched, Griffin stands ready to deliver his first pitch - just as he did before the ballpark's first-ever game on April 14, 1988. Considering Griffin's omniscient presence in the area baseball scene, the statue is sure to serve as a reminder of one man's dedication and love for a city, and a team.
"Mayor Griffin was not only a mayor who showed up here to throw out a first pitch," Buczkowski said. "He loved the Bisons, followed the Bisons, was here for all of our big events and all our big games. We know how much he enjoyed it."
Perhaps Griffin's most significant baseball-related accomplishment can be seen less than 30 feet from his statue itself - Coca-Cola Field. When Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich first considered the idea of bringing big-league baseball to Buffalo in the 1980's, knowing that a big-league stadium would be a prerequisite, Griffin jumped fully on board with the dream.
Nothing could hold him back.
"He was a driving force," Buczkowski said. "He just kept everything moving forward. He didn't let obstacles get in the way, he didn't let setbacks get in the way."
Whenever a challenge came up, Griffin refused to get discouraged - pushing along, knowing that the stadium dream could be realized through persistence. Coca-Cola Field (then known as Pilot Field) was opened for play in 1988, to the tune of constant recognition and praise nationwide.
The field had a big-league feel, with big-league seating and ambience, and the country knew it.
"It opened to rave reviews nationally," Buczkowski said. "Every major league baseball team that has built a stadium since this ballpark opened, came to visit our ballpark. They marveled at the design."
Maybe the most impressive feature of the stadium was its location - right in the heart of downtown Buffalo, seamlessly blended in with the pre-existing infrastructure. The trend in the 1980's was moving away from city ballparks - stadiums were being built away from downtown, in suburbs and less-crowded areas. Griffin and the rest dared to resist the trend.
Buffalo pulled it off, and may have played a role in reversing the trend as a result. Nowadays, stadiums are once again being planned and executed in the heart of urban surroundings - with the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx being the most famous example.
Buffalo may not have got the major league team, but it got the stadium. No doubt about that.
"They (major league franchises) marveled at how it fits into our downtown setting," Buczkowski said. "Since the opening of this ballpark, a lot of teams have copied this design, in one way or another. Everyone's building new ballparks that look like old ballparks, that feel like the ballparks of yesteryear."
Jimmy Griffin - a Buffalo lifer, a trend-setter, a man who worked hard to help our area in any way he could. A man who dreamed big, with the focus and work ethic to see his dreams through to completion.
Friday afternoon, right outside the ballpark where Griffin enjoyed so many pleasant summer evenings, his resemblance was unveiled - to help us keep in mind our ability to make a difference.
As long as we strive to take Jimmy Griffin's actions to heart.