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Buffalo's alluring new ballpark; Olympic program off target

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 1, 1988



Buffalo, N.Y.

This season's best baseball romance has occurred here in Buffalo, where a record number of fans have embraced the Bisons minor-league team. An aggressive promotions strategy, aided by the city's desire to stamp itself ``big league,'' have been key elements in keeping the turnstiles spinning right up to tonight's final home game. A fair amount of the credit, though, also belongs to Pilot Field, a wonderfully inviting new stadium with all the latest amenities as well as the charm of some of the best-loved older ballparks, including a lush grass field.

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It is a winning combination, especially given its location in a historic preservation district right downtown. Among the nice architectural touches are pennant-topped cupolas, a green metal roof, marble tiles set in precast concrete walls, a backlit colonnade, and graceful exterior arches.

``The stadium is the real rallying point for the fun and frivolity that's needed downtown,'' says Bisons president Bob Rich Jr.

The Rich family, which has made its fortune in the frozen food business, is one of the city's most prominent, and in 1972 bought the naming rights to the 80,000-seat pro football home of the Buffalo Bills in outlying Orchard Park.

The location of Rich Stadium has been something of a sore spot with city supporters, so it is not surprising that Pilot Field, named after Pilot Air Freight, has raised the community's morale.

One local writer says that the ballpark and the Bills' acquisition of heralded quarterback Jim Kelly two seasons ago are the best things to happen to Buffalo sports in years.

Certainly the fans have demonstrated their eagerness to watch baseball at Pilot Field. Two weeks ago a sellout crowd shoved the tickets sold this season above the 1,052,438 mark, which was the old minor-league attendance mark set by the Louisville Redbirds in 1983.

People have been lured by all manner of ethnic nights and theme nights, by a desire to show how much Buffalo wants a major league club, and by the opportunity to witness baseball in such beautiful surroundings.

Before now, the Bisons had played in dilapidated War Memorial Stadium or the ``Rockpile,'' as the facility used in the movie ``The Natural,'' was known to locals.

Mayor Jimmy Griffin, who was instrumental in getting Pilot Field built, originally pushed a domed stadium. Not many snow-belters, though, want to go indoors at this time of year.

Even fans in the 38 luxury sky boxes prefer to keep the sliding glass doors open, and two patios connected with the 350-seat, in-stadium restaurant are popular viewing spots.

The stadium truly has a big-league feel, right down to the state-of-the art stereo system in the Bisons' carpeted clubhouse, and thanks to a very ingenious design, the seating capacity can be doubled during a single off-season by adding an upper tier. Olympic program on sale

A person doesn't have to travel to South Korea to buy an Olympic program. The official, 300-page souvenir issue is already on American newsstands several weeks before the Seoul Games begin. The $7.95 soft-cover carries an explanation and preview of all 23 Olympic sports, but some of the information misses the mark.

For example, in the basketball section American star David Robinson is credited with leading his college team (Navy) to 106 victories in the NCAA championships. The unidentified author obviously isn't conversant with the US game and confuses Navy's four-year record for its tournament performance. That's an understandable mistake, a case of something getting lost in translation.

Credibility is pretty well shot, though, when running with the ball is called a ``foul'' and it's stated that players must not have any physical contact with other players. The almost Olympian

Brian Shaw spent several months earning a distinction he'd rather not have. This week, after a long tryout period and whole series of exhibition games, he became the last player cut from the men's US Olympic basketball team. Coach John Thompson called the guard from Cal-Santa Barbara ``a very fine player,'' who finally got caught in the number squeeze.

Only 12 of more than 100 players invited to the trials made the roster, and Thompson chose Bimbo Coles of Virginia Tech and Charles Smith, who plays for Thompson at Georgetown, to ``quarterback'' the team from the backcourt. Shaw, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association Player of the Year this past season, received little national attention in college, but should start receiving much more as he reports in with the Boston Celtics as the team's top draft choice.

New Celtics coach Jimmy Rodgers has compared Shaw's versatility and defensive intensity to that of Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Lakers. Even while directing Santa Barbara's attack, the 6 ft. 5 in. point guard led the PCAA with 9.1 rebounds a game.