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Name Buffalo's ballpark after a legend? Noble but, Bisons say, impractical

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A recently-published column recommends the Buffalo Bisons, upon the conclusion of its current stadium naming rights agreement, rebrand the downtown ballpark in honor of one of its legendary players. Although baseball enthusiasts say Luke Easter was indeed one of the greatest to ever wear the Bisons uniform, the minor league baseball club says it could not afford to pass up the revenue that will be generated from a new corporate sponsor.

The current naming rights agreement with Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Buffalo will expire in December and will not be renewed. A new stadium name will not be announced until after the 2018 baseball season, Bisons officials say, but a recent recommendation by Buffalo News columnist Sean Kirst was to rename the stadium in honor of the late Luke Easter.

Easter was born in Mississippi and grew up during the nation's Jim Crow laws era. After playing some semi-pro ball and serving domestically during World War II, he played pro ball for the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League and then spent six seasons with the Cleveland Indians of the American League. An injury early in the 1954 season cost him his big league spot and soon he was toiling in the minors, including , but an injury cost him a big league spot and he toiled in the minors, including three seasons with the Buffalo Bisons.

"Luke Easter, when he played in Buffalo, was a polarizing figure but in a great way," said Bisons Vice President and General Manager Michael Buczkowski. "He was a beloved player, a huge man, great in the community. People just loved Luke as a big home run hitter."

Easter later played for nearby Rochester and is honored by both the Red Wings and Bisons with retired uniform numbers, 36 for Rochester and 25 for Buffalo. Easter is one of only three former Buffalo Bisons to have his uniform number retired, along with Ollie Carnegie and Jeff Manto. After his retirement from baseball, Easter found work in Ohio and, in 1979, was murdered by robbers when he refused to give up the money he was handling for his employers.

With Buffalo's downtown ballpark about to secure its fifth name since opening as Pilot Field in 1988, would the team consider honoring Luke Easter? Buczkowski replied that the team, which assumed responsibility for daily ballpark operations several years ago when its lease with the City of Buffalo was revised, simply cannot afford to give up the revenue that would be generated through a corporate naming rights deal.

"I don't think there are many ballparks remaining that do not have a naming rights deal and for really the same reason," he said. "The care, the operation and the maintenance of this ballpark is a challenge. It does cosf money. The ballpark is now 31 years old, so it's not getting any easier to maintain. It requires more attention."

Buczkowski told WBFO that he could not disclose how much money Coca-Cola Bottling Company paid for their naming rights, explaining one of the conditions of that pact is to not publicly reveal such details.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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