This weekend is a special time in our fair city. It is a time to celebrate two of the things that make our country an extraordinary place: baseball and the youth of our nation. This weekend the Buffalo Bisons will join Major League Baseball in observing Play Ball Weekend.
In Major and Minor League ballparks around the country Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 10 – 12, 2022, the game will salute the youth that are the future players and current fans of the national pastime. It is a celebration of youth participation in baseball and softball that focuses on engaging the young fans that are starry-eyed when they come face-to-face with the larger-than-life heroes of our current game.
Here in Buffalo, the event will occur over these three days at multiple venues highlighting both the present and the past of our game. The Buffalo Bisons will be partnering with a stalwart champion of our city’s children for the past 38 years, the Willie Hutch Jones Educational and Sports Program (WHJESP). This program has provided no-cost year-round social skill development, sports skill development, and academic support in science and math to the youth of Buffalo and Lackawanna.
When talking to founder and namesake Dr. Willie Hutch Jones, “Hutch” to his friends, his warm demeanor and personality exude even over the phone. In chatting with him about his program there were many things that stood out. One of the great things about the program is that it not only provides for children of this community but from all over the country. “Kids that travel with their parents have a place for positive programming. We have people who come here from as far away as Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina.”
Hutch and I also talked about the recent tragic events on the East Side of Buffalo and what this weekend might do to bring healing to the community. With a strong voice, Hutch related to me that it will “Reindoctrinate kids in the sport of baseball. . .our community needs positive environments for our children and take your mind back to playing ball and being a kid again.” Later in our conversation he reinforced that point with the following statement, “You are a child, they want to play. It doesn’t matter what race or color they are, they are teammates, another player in the game. Mentally when they grow up they won’t have that hate since they played with boys and girls of all races as a child.”
Former General Manager of the Buffalo Bisons Mike Billoni echoed those thoughts:
“Baseball and sports teams are comprised of players from all ethnic backgrounds, all colors and all religions and they all play together, and they all have each other’s backs. Those programs are needed now more so than ever because these kids need hope and fun.”
Registration and the event will be held at Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilions tower entrance at Jefferson and Dodge.
The events of Play Ball Weekend will be divided among three locations here in Buffalo. On Friday, June 10th from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m., WHJESP will offer a FREE “chalk talk,” about baseball, softball, and life skills, led by WHJESP baseball and softball team leaders, followed by a baseball “short” film. Registration and the event will be held at Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilions tower entrance at Jefferson and Dodge, in the second-floor activity room. Children, ages 5 – 12 are welcome. Food, beverages, and popcorn will be included.
For those who do not know, the Johnny B. Wiley Sport Pavilion is both the former home of and encompasses some of the remaining architecture of the former War Memorial Stadium, affectionately named “The Rockpile.” When I asked “Hutch” about holding an event in the shadows of such a great local piece of sports history he reminisced like so many of us do. “I remember walking up the hill from Jefferson and Delevan to watch the Bills play. I walked with my dad to watch those players, O. J. Simpson, Joe Namath, and Cookie Gilchrist… it takes me back to when I was a kid.” Billoni also commented on his fond memories of the Rockpile. “War Memorial Stadium was the first stadium where I watched professional sports… the Bills and Bisons in the 1960s and then to be back as the GM of the Bisons when Robert Redford and The Natural was filmed here.”
Saturday's events will take place at McCarthy Park.
Saturday’s events will take place at McCarthy Park, 304 E Amherst St., Buffalo, NY 14215. Named for the venerable Hall of Fame Yankee, Cubs, and Red Sox skipper, Joe McCarthy, a longtime Buffalo resident whose final resting place is in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Tonawanda, the veteran baseball man would be smiling at the day’s planned events. From 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., WHJESP will offer a FREE one-day youth clinic (prior registration required) for children ages 5 – 12. It will include instruction on hitting, fielding, catching, and running. At the conclusion of the clinic, lunch will be provided. Registrants can begin check-in at 9:30 a.m. Following lunch, participants are invited to take part in the Pitch, Hit, and Run Home Run Derby Competition.
On Sunday, June 12th the events will move to Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, home of the Bisons.
On Sunday, June 12th the events will move to Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, home of the Bisons. The Bisons will host the Worcester Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. After the game ALL KIDS will be allowed on the field to run the bases and take part in a homerun challenge, taking a swing at hitting a baseball off a tee and out of the ballpark! For tickets visit bisons.com.
It is events like this weekend brings to us that make us think about the wonderful sport of baseball and what it means to so many. Across all races and ages it is handed down from father to son, mother to daughter. It tears down the barriers that we have built up around ourselves when we join as one to root for our favorite team. Find time this weekend at one of the events listed above to rejoice in the sound of children’s laughter, to pick up a ball and glove yourself, and to find your inner child.
For more information about the Willie Hutch Jones Educational and Sports Programs activities, including this weekends events visit whjsc.org.