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Touching Baseball History

Offermann Stadium plaque ready for debut

Travel to Pittsburgh and visit the University of Pittsburgh campus, and you will have to search hard. Really hard. But then you’ll find it, right across from the main library: a brick wall with a stenciled marker on it, all covered with ivy and brush. That is the outfield wall of the old Forbes Field, the hallowed home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. On that very spot Bill Mazeroski hit his famed home run in the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees, propelling the Pirates to immortality.

Keep searching, enter the library, and you’ll find the location of home plate, embedded in the terrazzo tile flooring.

Pittsburgh is not the only city that enshrines its baseball glory of the past with remembrances and markers. You will find a billboard and a plaque marking the location of Sportsman Park in St. Louis, the predecessor to the old Busch Stadium. In Kansas City, the grounds of the old Municipal Stadium serve today as an urban farm, yet homeowners right across the street will tell you that visitors stop buy almost every day, many bringing their kids, just to look, to point, and to reminisce.

In other cities, new ballparks have been built in close proximity to their former venues. Old Comiskey in Chicago, Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Shea Stadium in Queens, and the Vet in Philadelphia are forever enshrined in the parking lots in the shadows of their teams’ new digs. Many are simply remembered by a mosaic of pavement outlining the location of home plate and the basepaths.

Yet here in Buffalo, the city’s glorious baseball history has almost been forgotten. Today fans watch Bisons baseball at Coca Cola Field, at the corner of Washington and Swan in downtown Buffalo. Yet for much of the 20th century, baseball was played at two other venues. The fortress-like gates of War Memorial Stadium on the East Side still stand and herald memories of old. Then there was Offermann Stadium, one of the greatest neighborhood ballparks ever built. Some of the Buffalo Bisons’ signature moments took place there, and some of the team’s greatest players graced that field in the seven decades of its existence.

Yet today there is nothing to remind us that a grand stadium once stood at the corner of Michigan and East Ferry.

Enter John Boutet.

Boutet of Grand Island, who serves as site and exhibit director for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and maintains a voluminous private collection of Buffalo sports artifacts, took the leadership role in turning this into reality. “It was far more involved than I ever could have imagined,” he said. “This wasn’t a new Peace Bridge, just a plaque, yet we had to go through so many hurdles.”

The first step was to contact North District Councilman Joseph Golombek. “Joe was more than helpful throughout all this,” said Boutet. “He helped lay out the process. The first step was to contact the Buffalo Arts Commission and submit a historical narrative of the land and what transpired there. Then the Historical Society did the research for factual integrity. That part alone took over six months. Once we got the go-ahead from the Historical Society, we then had to contact the only authorized plaque-maker, that being a foundry in Ohio. The production schedule took an additional few months, and then we encountered delays. The text didn’t fit, we had to pare it down a couple of times. The finished product was finally delivered to my house last September.”

Then there was the matter of funding.

“The total cost was about $1,500, and I basically passed the hat via a message blast on Facebook. The response was great—$5 here, $25 there. We quickly got to $800. I then approached Brian Cavanaugh at the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, and the board came up with $500. The next call was to the Buffalo Bisons, and general manager Mike Buczkowski immediately agreed to cover any shortfall. And just like that, the project was funded.”

Boutet is still dealing with city officials to actually get the marker installed in time for Saturday’s unveiling. The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which will begin at 10am near the back parking lot on the corner of Michigan and East Ferry. “Pete Weber, the former voice of the Bisons, will be our emcee,” Boutet said. “Few people know more about Buffalo sports history than Pete does, so he should be an excellent host.”

Two of four of famed Bisons slugger Luke Easter’s children, Gerald and Terry, will be there to represent the Easter family. Brothers Paul Offermann and Frank Offermann Jr., whose family owned the Bisons for many years, will also be there.

“We had tried for years to get this done,” said Frank’s daughter, Barbara Offermann Townsend. “I’m just so grateful for the support and encouragement of so many that we could make this happen. Now one of Buffalo’s pieces of sports history will be remembered forever.”

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