I was pretty darned excited on the morning of August 6, 2010. Why? This day was to be the first day of a six-day MLB and MiLB road trip and my wife would be accompanying me. What a good sport she is! The plan was to hit Buffalo that night for the Triple-A Bisons game, and then catch two Indians games in Cleveland, a New York-Penn League game in Niles, Ohio (the Mahoning Valley Scrappers) and a pair of games in Toronto on the way home. Awesome!
I’d seen Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field once before, but I’d never been inside for a game. I’ve also read a lot about this stadium being a fun place to watch a game and soon found out that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Some random facts about Coca-Cola Field that I didn’t initially know:
– It opened in 1988 with the hope that a MLB team would relocate to Buffalo.
– With a capacity of 18,025, it’s the biggest stadium in the minors.
– It’s had five different names in its life. The funniest was 1994’s Downtown Ballpark.
– As of the 2011 season, it’ll have the largest LED scoreboard in MiLB.
Anyway, back to my visit. Coca-Cola Field is located in downtown Buffalo. On a game night, as you get close to the field, you’ll see a ton of fans out and about in the area, which makes for an exciting vibe. There are lots of parking options downtown, and many are on the pricier side. Deals, however, can are possible if you’re patient. We scouted out a few blocks and managed to park in a guarded, covered lot for $5.
Here was the view as soon as we stepped out of our lot:
A perfect sight! I like the look of the side of Coca-Cola Field. As you can see, the sky was overcast and it didn’t look good for baseball that night. But as miserable as the temperatures were, it never rained. From the road outside the stadium, we could see the scoreboard:
And a bunch of empty seats, given that the park wasn’t yet open:
We walked past the players’ parking lot, which is located in the right field corner. There were several nice cars here, and spots designated for team staff:
The ballpark was pretty well decorated above the sidewalks, and you have to give Buffalo credit. It seems like a really passionate sports town:
Here’s one of the many lots that surround the ballpark:
Coca-Cola Field has a very cool look to it. Lots of pillars and wrought iron and I love the way it’s a fairly modern facility that has a bit of historic design style:
Of course, I had to take my usual ticket shot:
You’ll notice the severe bend on my tickets. It was that windy. If you look closely enough, you’ll see my thumbnail is turning purple from the death grip I’ve got on them just to keep them from flying away.
The sidewalk outside the stadium had a few people milling around, but by now, the gates were open and people were heading inside — in search of hot food, I’m guessing, given how cold it was outside. The Columbus Clippers, the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, were in town.
As soon as I get into a new stadium, my first goal is to quickly get my bearings and figure out where things are. I’ll worry about where my seats are located later. In my mind, the hour between the gates opening and first pitch is for exploring around and taking lots of photos. Here are some photos of my initial looks at Coca-Cola Field:
The ballpark does a pretty cool job of reminding you what town you’re in. See this buffalo shape around the distance marker in the right field corner?
The Bisons have an impressive history, and you can see just how successful they’ve been dating back to 1878 on the Bisons Championship Corner banner. Buffalo gets a bit of a bad rap as not being a city with many championships, but one look at the banner below reminds you that the Bisons have held up their end of the bargain:
Beyond the right field corner is a bar called Heron’s Landing. It’s four levels and accessible during the game only if you’ve bought a wristband.
We headed over to Heron’s Landing and because the game hadn’t yet begun, an usher let us through. Some tables had dishes of peanuts for fans, which I thought was fun. Here’s a view from where we sat for a little while as we took in the scenery:
If you visit Buffalo as a member of a large group, Heron’s Landing is definitely the place to be. If you walk right through Heron’s Landing, you can get down behind the outfield fence where there’s a huge picnic area, concession stand and washrooms. The picnic area is apparently for private parties or work functions. When we were there, there were tables and tables of food set out for the groups:
The backside of the outfield fence had a sign warning fans about batting practice, which confused me a little. Normally, Minor League parks aren’t open during BP, so perhaps the groups in this area get early admission:
The asphalt concourse behind the outfield fence is unique. It’s painted with baseballs left by the ballpark’s longest home runs. Slugger Russell Branyan had a few, including these two in games two nights apart. Incidentally, Branyan hit 25 dingers in 82 games with Buffalo in 2004.
In this area, I looked for a long time for a BP ball wedged in the fencing, extra seating and general mess beyond the fence, but came up empty.
After seeing what we wanted to see, we headed back to the main seating bowl of the ballpark. From the top of the 100 section, you could look backward and see the street behind the stadium. By now, the road was starting to get crowded. Here’s our parking lot, still charging $5:
And some traffic in front of the ballpark:
Coca-Cola Field was slowly beginning to fill about a half hour before first pitch, and the sun was dipping enough to cause crazy shadows over the field:
One thing that’s neat about this ballpark is how open it is. When you want to walk around, you can head to the concourse and in many places, look out at the streets of Buffalo. (I’d later see that Cleveland’s Progressive Field is much like this.) Some stadiums completely block you off from the world outside, but that’s not the case here:
Being in Buffalo, we decided to get some Buffalo wings for dinner. There’s a stand above the 100 Level down the right field line called Ballpark Wings ‘n Things.
Their specialty is wings and fries. We got two orders of wings and one order of sweet potato fries. In a town known for its Buffalo wings, the wings were a little underwhelming. They were dry and didn’t contain much meat, but perhaps that’s just an anomaly. Next time I’m back in Buffalo, I’m going to give the wings another try. Here’s what they looked like:
The fries weren’t that great, either. They were very hard and had a bit of a stale oil taste:
By now, the action had begun on the field:
As I mentioned earlier, Coca-Cola Field was built with an MLB franchise in mind. As such, it’s a very large park. Here’s a look at part of the 100 Level and 200 Level, with the suites just above the 200 Level seating:
Time for a walk! My wife decided to hang out in our seats in the right field corner while I set out on my usual wander around. The sight lines were good behind the dugouts and the stands were mostly packed in this area:
There are some neat suites at the top of the 100 Level that put you close to the action, although these fans didn’t seem to be too interested in the game!
Here’s a panorama taken from behind home plate … and from behind the protective netting:
The concourse at Coca-Cold Field is enclosed in most areas; while you can see the field through the entrance to each section, and can see parts of downtown in other areas, it’s mostly a long hallway:
By now, I’d made my way across the field to the visitor’s dugout on the third base side:
A few minutes later, I’d made it all the way to the left field corner and the championship banner:
The sun was starting to set over Buffalo. I love ballpark sunset photos:
Here’s former MLBer Michael Barrett and his .095 batting average. Next year, the Bisons will have the biggest scoreboard in all of Minor League Baseball, so I’m looking forward to getting back to Coca-Cola Field to see it.
Another photo of the setting sun:
Here’s a look across at Heron’s Landing:
Here I am behind the foul pole in left field:
And here’s a look at one of the Coca-Cola Field signs that’s visible from the road:
I began the short climb up to the 200 Level, pausing to snap this photo looking down at the 100 Level concourse:
Here’s where I was standing just a few minutes ago, as seen from the 200 Level:
I found another opening in the 200 Level and looked out into the downtown area to spot HSBC Arena, home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres:
On my way back to where my wife was waiting, I grabbed a Buffalo pretzel. I like how this pretzel is shaped like a B for Buffalo or Bisons, rather than the usual pretzel shape. It was hot, fresh and tasty, too:
As for the game, Buffalo scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 7-5. Day one of the six-day baseball road trip was down. The next morning, we’d make the drive to Cleveland to catch the first of two Indians games. Awesome!
Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Coca-Cola Field. It was a cold evening, but the fans were into the game and I definitely can’t wait to get back to Buffalo.