Bill Wolcott's Sports Spectrum: Don't forget Nats' ties to NF

Bill Wolcott

It was the summer of 1968. Washington had the shakiest franchise in major league baseball. Buffalo had the shakiest franchise in baseball. Within two years, both franchises would flee to Canada.

Before that, in Niagara Falls, the Senators and the Bisons would meet at Hyde Park Stadium for a once-in-a-lifetime game in our power city.

An American League team, the Washington Senators, played its International League farm team here. Niagara Falls, which took in the orphaned Buffalo Bisons in 1967, welcomed the Herd. Racial tensions forced the Bisons to move night games out of War Memorial Stadium at Jefferson and Best and make a mid-season move to Niagara Falls.

Our city got to see future stars Johnny Bench and Hal McRae and a handful of former major leaguers under the seasoned-eye of manager Don Zimmer. Attendance was very good at the park christened by FDR during the Depression and Buffalo signed a three-year contract to play night games in Niagara Falls.

During the off-season, the city put up new lights in order to reach Triple-A standards. The city was so excited it had a welcoming luncheon in the spring of 1968. The mayor was so excited he told Hyde Park neighbors that if they didn’t like the new lights to “Go to Hell.”

That quote cost Mayor E. Dent Lackey a trip to the Democratic National Convention, but hizzoner owned up to it.

The bonus was, the Washington Senators would play in Niagara Falls.

Fans from all over the Niagara Frontier more than filled the old park. They were backed up behind the snow fence down the left field and right field lines. They poked their noses between the ads in the outfield.

The cash-strapped Bisons lost count of the attendance, but it was estimated at over 7,000.

Brant Alyea of the Bisons won the home run derby over Frank Howard of the Nation’s Capitol.

Washington won the game, but Niagara Falls had a great experience.

There was discontent in 1969 when Buffalo decided to put the next exhibition game in Buffalo. The Senators died and moved to Montreal to become the Expos, the Bisons moved to Winnepg and to oblivion. The Bisons were eventually reborn.

The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals. Washington won the World Series 50 years after the last Bisons game at Hyde Park. We remember, Washington was here. 

Bill Wolcott is a former Niagara Falls Gazette sports writer and editor who wrote a column titles "Sports Spectrum." Write to him at scoreboard@gnnewspaper.com.

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