Back in the early 1990s, we suggested Rochester’s new downtown ballpark be named after a local sports legend, with Major Don Holleder and Luke Easter as ideal candidates. We did so, knowing full-well our idea had a snowball’s chance in Hades of succeeding. As expected, it was quickly rejected, just like earlier suggestions to name Syracuse’s Carrier Dome after late Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis and Rich Stadium after Bob Kalsu, who played for the Buffalo Bills before paying the ultimate price for his country in Vietnam.
So, instead of Holleder Field or Easter Park, we got Frontier Field, after Frontier Communications stepped to the plate with an offer Monroe County couldn’t refuse. What’s in a name? Millions of corporate dollars when it comes to stadium naming rights. Since that time, Frontier (formerly Rochester Telephone) has doled out more than $4 million to be associated with the ballpark across the street from Monroe Community College’s downtown campus and the iconic tower that housed Eastman Kodak’s headquarters.
As far as corporate names go, we lucked out. Frontier Field was alliterative, not clunky like so many business names given to ballparks, stadiums and arenas in recent decades. It flowed off the tongue and flowed historically, too, because after 68 seasons at Silver (previously Red Wing) Stadium on Norton Street on the city’s north side, our minor-league baseball team was about to enter a new frontier.
The relationship between company, county and team has worked in concert like ball in glove in hand for nearly a quarter century, but as longtime colleague and friend Kevin Oklobzija reported last week, the partnership may be about to end. Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings involving Frontier could bring a premature finish to the naming rights deal that is scheduled to run through 2025. Whenever the Wings resume play, the ballpark probably will be called something other than Frontier Field. And given the pandemic-ravaged business climate, we wonder how difficult it will be for Monroe County to find a partner willing to ante up the ballpark figure of $275,000 per year that Frontier was paying. It’s a problem similar to the one Syracuse University faces as it attempts to extricate itself from a naming rights deal it’s had with Carrier Corporation since the Dome’s inception in 1980.
Again, with regards to name and stability, we made out well. All you have to do is look to the west and east of us to see how we’ve been the exception rather than the rule. The Buffalo Bisons ballpark started as Pilot Field in 1988 before becoming North Americare Park, Dunn Tire Park, Coca-Cola Field and — starting last season — Sahlen Field. That’s five names in 32 years. Since 1973, the Bills have called their Orchard Park playpen Rich Stadium, Buffalo Bills Stadium, Ralph Wilson Stadium and New Era Field. During the past 24 years, the Buffalo Sabres have played hockey in a building known as Marine Midland Arena (or the Marina), HSBC Arena, First Niagara Center, and, now, KeyBank Center. The Syracuse Mets (formerly Chiefs) have played baseball in a park known as P&C Stadium, Alliance Bank Stadium and NBT Stadium.
If Frontier and the courts decide our naming agreement is over, we might need a temporary name while the county seeks suitors. How about Holleder Memorial Park? Or Easter Field? (It might become known as “The Luke.”) Or Joe Altobelli Park? Or Johnny Antonelli Yards? Or, simply, ROC Park?
As Michael Jordan proved throughout his playing career, timing is everything. Just as his late-game heroics, particularly in the playoffs, help make his legend, so, too, did the timing of his recent 10-part documentary. During the coronavirus pandemic, sports fans were starving for programming, and an average of 5.6 million viewers tuned in to The Last Dance, making it the most viewed documentary in ESPN history, breaking the previous record established by You Don’t Know Bo, a detailed look at iconic, two-sport star Bo Jackson. The value of Jordan memorabilia also has been soaring through the rafters lately. A signed, game-worn pair of original Air Jordans from 1985 just sold for $560,000 in an auction conducted by Sotheby’s. To paraphrase the Mars Blackmon character played by Spike Lee in those famous NIKE Jordan television commercials: “I gotta have those shoes.”
Found it interesting but not surprising that when asked which legendary Bills player he would add to the team’s 2020 roster, coach Sean McDermott said: “Thurman Thomas.” Having a dynamic triple-threat (run-catch-block) like the Thurmanator would make life a lot easier for third-year quarterback Josh Allen.
Speaking of Bills legends, I’m in total agreement with Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly when he says there’s no excuse for Buffalo not to win the AFC East this year. Anything short of that would be a huge disappointment.
Quick now, without resorting to Google, who is Jarrett Stidham? A pat on the back if you answered he’s the man who probably will be given the hopeless task of succeeding New England Patriots Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady. A second-year signal-caller from Auburn, Stidham looked sharp in preseason games last year — for what that’s worth — but threw just four regular-season passes. Stidham will have to beat out Brian Hoyer. And there’s still a chance the Pats could sign a veteran from a free agent pool featuring broken-down Cam Newton and ancient Matt Moore. Whoever winds up the starter will face impossible expectations.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. His latest book, “Remembrances of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories,” was just published and is available in paperback and digital formats at amazon.com.