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Interview with Buffalo Baseball legend “Torey” Lovullo

© by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks

Salvatore Anthony “Torey” Lovullo has played, coached and managed professional baseball in many cities over the past 30 years but none hold the memories he carries as a player and manager of the Buffalo Bisons.

The first year manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks spent nearly 20 minutes in the visiting team’s dugout in Minnesota’s Target Field prior to a recent game reminiscing about Buffalo that included:

  • When he was a member of the first two Triple A League Championships for Bison owners Bob and Mindy Rich as a veteran player in 1997-98.
  • When he dated and later married a Bisons’ front office associate, Kristen Burwell during his time as their manager 10 years ago.
  • When he and teammate Jeff Manto were inducted into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Torey as a Buffalo Bisons player in 97-98 (courtesy Buffalo Bisons)

What really holds a special spot in his heart about his playing and managing days in Buffalo really had nothing to do about anything that occurred on the playing field. It had to do with how much closer he was able to get with members of his parent’s sides of their families.

Torey’s father, Sam, was born and raised in Buffalo before moving to California where Torey and his siblings were born.  His father, an accountant by trade, got a job at CBS Studios handled the finances for the Jonathan Winters Show before he and some Canadian investors created a Country-Western version of Laugh In called, Hee Haw, which turned out to be the most popular syndicated show of all-time that aired on television for 25 years until the early 1990’s.

“I grew up in that lifestyle but it never really affected me because to me, he was my dad,” Torey recalls of his dad who died in January.  “Regardless of where he was—Nashville or California—he always supported me playing baseball and he taught me some key life lessons that I will always carry with me.”

Growing up, Torey always heard about members of his mom and dad’s family who lived in the Buffalo area but he never met them until he signed with the Cleveland Indians and was assigned to the Triple A Bisons as a veteran infielder for the magical 1997 and 1998 seasons at the downtown ballpark.

PHOENIX, AZ – APRIL 08: The D-backs defeat the Indians 11-2. (Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks)

“I will never forget the seasons I played and managed in Buffalo because I made some very special friends that I value very much.  When I visit there in the off-season with my wife, I am able to spend some quality time with them,” he says.

“Those years were an invaluable time for me personally and professionally because I was able to perform on the field in one of the best, state of the art Triple A stadiums in the country on a team owned by Bob and Mindy Rich, who became very close friends of mine.  I also played some good baseball and we were able to reward those amazing fans with two championships,” he adds.

Off the field, he was able to connect with members of his family, who took him in as their own son.

“We come from a very big Italian family and we are all very proud of one another,” Torey explains.  “Our entire family is very proud of me and they have all supported me wherever I have played, coached or managed and I really appreciate that.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA – JUNE 9: The Brewers defeat the D-backs 8-6. (Photo by Taylor Jackson/Arizona Diamondbacks)

“What’s funny is that when I joined the Bisons in ’97 I had to get 25 season tickets for family members who were at every game cheering loud and proud.  That support has continued just as strong wherever I have gone throughout my career,”

His dad’s side of the family were the Millemaci’s of Williamsville and his moms were the Schucraft’s of Tonawanda.

“I remember sitting with Torey’s dad at many games and proudly watching his son play.  Sadly, Sam passed away earlier this year.  He was a great, funny man,” recalls second cousin Paul Lovullo of the large Lovullo Insurance Agency family.

Torey grew up in an environment revolving around family.  To him, family is everything.  That is exactly what he felt when he arrived in Buffalo in 1997 and first met Bob and Mindy Rich, who saved professional baseball in Buffalo in 1983 when Bob, Jr. and Rich Products Corp. purchased the franchise from a group led by former mayor, Jimmy Griffin, who had brought baseball back to Buffalo in 1979.

“Bob and Mindy were more of a father and mother to our players and that had extreme value because they were connected to what was going on with the Bisons each and every game.   I always felt I could go to them and talk about life or just talk about the game.  They were genuinely interested in our wellbeing and I loved having them as owners. I have some very special memories of the time we spent together,” Torey recalls with pride.

A memory Torey clearly remembers was how Bob would talk about his naked ring finger, signifying the Bisons had never won a championship under his ownership.

Torey Lovullo holding the American Association championship trophy at team celebration in Buffalo in 1997 (courtesy Buffalo Bisons)

That was to end in 1997, which was the final season for the league they played in, the American Association.  That ’97 championship season was the tops in 30 Bison seasons downtown, proclaimed Mike Harrington, the veteran Buffalo News baseball scribe in a lengthy Inside Baseball column that appeared in The News on August 20.

In that memorable season the Bisons won the championship with a dramatic 5-4 win in 10 innings on the road against the Iowa Cubs after winning the first two games at home.  When the third out occurred in the bottom of the 10th, Torey made sure he found the game ball and tucked it into his back pocket before celebrating with his teammates.

After receiving the championship trophy and moving the celebration into the visiting team’s locker room filled with cases of cold champagne, Torey called for a break in the spraying of the bubbly and when he had everyone’s attention, he produced the game ball and talked about how much this championship meant for the Bison fans back home, for the city of Buffalo, for the front office but especially for the owners, Bob and Mindy Rich.  He then presented the game ball to Bob Rich, Jr., who still proudly displays it as a treasured memento on a book shelf in his Niagara Street office of Rich Products.

“To be part of the first championship team for him as our owner and to have him celebrating with us in the locker room after that game was an incredible memory I will always cherish,” Torey recalls with pride.

“A memory I will always have from what Bob once told me was “Always have fun in life—enjoy the moment and always support one another.  I know that is how they live their life and how they run their business and sport’s teams.”

The following year, as members of the International League, Torey was part of a second straight league championship for the Bisons.

He returned to the Herd in 2006 and 2007 as their manager and during that time a sales associate of the team caught his eye.  The former Kristen Burwell, a Grand Island resident, enjoyed working in the Bison front office and “played hard to get” when Torey asked her out during his first year as manager.  “She essentially told me to go fly a kite,” he says with a laugh.

“Through my persistent ways I finally landed a date and then how could she seriously resist this,” he says with a laugh as he flashes his ever present smile.

Author, Mike Billoni with Torey before a game in Minnesota

Another fond memory of Buffalo occurred in 2003 when he was inducted into the Buffalo Baseball HOF with Manto.  “It is extremely flattering and I was very, very honored be voted into the Hall of Fame. I was extremely humbled when the Bisons called and then to go in with Jeff Manto, one of my closest friends in baseball, made it that much more special.  We were very proud to be recognized for what we did in baseball for the Buffalo community.”

He also has fond memories of the team’s booster club, which has been supporting players and their families for 33 seasons.  “(President) Charlie Greene and the Booster Club members are so dedicated while opening up to all the players and their families in creating a warm, caring environment for them while they are in Buffalo.  I was thankful for their support.”

Greene, a retired Lutheran pastor, an original Booster club member and president for the past 18 seasons, says Torey is high on his list of favorite Bisons.  “My greatest memory is not of what he did on the field here,” he says.  “It was when he coached the Boston Red Sox and my wife and I would yell hello to him before a spring training game.    He would see us, stop what he was doing and come over and ask all kinds of questions about the Bisons and Buffalo.  A real genuine guy.”

Torey with friends who met up with him before a Twins game in Minnesota

Today, Torey’s amazing ride in baseball has him as the Diamondbacks manager in Phoenix while his oldest of three children, Nick, is in first season of professional baseball in the Red Sox farm system.

Just like his dad, Torey is extremely proud of his son and stays close to him even though he cannot be in the stands watching his games.

“I am able to watch his games on minor league baseball TV and several times a week we speak and when I can, I offer him suggestions,” Torey explains.  “I am very proud and supportive of him.”

As for the Diamondbacks, who are still in the hunt for a wild card spot in the National League, he likes what he sees in the future and he “loves” the players on his roster.

His players feel the same about their manager, who follows each day a life lesson he learned from Sparky Anderson, a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame and former three-time World Series champion manager for the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers.  “He used to say, ‘Just be yourself, be humble, have expectations to do your best each and every day and treat each player like a young man and not a little boy.’”

Torey, selected in the fifth round of the 1987 Major League Baseball draft, has followed that lesson throughout his career, which has some memorable moments in Buffalo.

Lead Image: photo credit Sarah Sachs // Arizona Diamondbacks

Written by Michael J. Billoni

Michael J. Billoni

Former sports reporter for the now defunct Courier-Express. Former vice president/general manager of the Buffalo Bisons. Handled the promotions and publicity for Buffalo’s undefeated heavyweight boxer, “Baby Joe” Mesi. Founder and principal of Billoni Associates. Authored and managed the publication of “Robert E. Rich—Memoirs of an Innovator,” the biography of the founder of Rich Products Corp.

Mike and is wife Debbie love Western New York and always try to help others and encourage positive thoughts

View All Articles by Michael J. Billoni
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