By Seamus Gallivan
Every day, in every community that has a professional baseball team, someone calls the stadium in search of support for a community cause. This service serves as a constant reminder that baseball is so much more than a mere game. Its popularity as our national pastime brings millions of people together in the open and relaxed setting of a ballpark, providing a pulpit for communities to celebrate that which makes them great and promote causes of importance. As an industry, baseball takes this role seriously – and as with all things, the best ballclubs go above and beyond.
For the Buffalo Bisons, stepping up to support injured Buffalo Police Officer Gary Sengbusch is a no-brainer. A 30 year-old, three-year veteran of active duty, Sengbusch was critically injured while off-duty when his car was struck by an alleged drunk driver in February – a crash that killed a passenger in the striking vehicle, 20 year-old Honey Ransom. Though Sengbusch is defying odds by being discharged from the hospital this week, he still faces a hard road to recovery without enough tenure on the police force to cover his everyday needs.
Already with a longstanding and growing program in place in support of the 100 Club of Buffalo, which provides service to the members of local law enforcement, fire and emergency medical service agencies and their families, when the Bisons were approached by the Buffalo Police Department and community-driven apparel company Buffalo Charities – core members of “Team Gary” – about turning a game night into a big benefit for Sengbusch, their response in partnering on the Team Gary Bisons Benefit Bash exceeded expectations as well as industry standards.
There’s an important footnote to the many facets of the event, set for Thursday, June 30th at Coca-Cola Field, for which a significant portion of all ticket sales through www.teamgary.org and at a host of area locations listed on the site will go directly to the fund set up for Sengbusch by the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association. Of course, all involved want to see a big crowd at the pre-game tent party featuring music from Strictly Hip; in the stands as Sengbusch takes the field for a ceremonial first pitch; around the raffle and silent auction featuring autographed jerseys and more from the likes of Derek Jeter, Carl Yazstremski, Brian Campbell, C.J. Spiller, and fervent first responder support Jay Leno; for a special post-game fireworks show; and at the after-party at Pearl Street Brewery that includes an encore performance by Strictly Hip with surprise guests. But those who can’t make any of this need not worry – tickets purchased on behalf of Team Gary can be exchanged for nearly any other Bisons game this season.
“We’ve been talking to police officers – they’re here working at every game – and we understand that even though everyone’s behind this and buying tickets, that not everyone can be here that night,” said Bisons Vice President and General Manager Mike Buczkowski. “Some of them will be working, but they’re making a commitment to the cause, and we want them to be able to come back to another game.”
For the dedicated group of supporters that have been selling Team Gary apparel since shortly after the accident, the ballclub has presented itself as a perfect partner to help celebrate Sengbusch’s service and aid his recovery.
“The Bisons have been right there for us from the first meeting,” said Buffalo Charities and Park Avenue Imprints CEO Paul Roorda. “[Account Executive] Rob Kates in particular has been superb – when we call on him, he’s on it. We’re asking a lot of them, and they’ve been fantastic about letting us do things that will make this an unforgettable night for Gary and everyone involved.”
For a man who survived a near-death experience and will soon emerge from a nearly four-month hospital stay, it’s hard to imagine a better place vantage point to be surrounded by the arms of his community than from the pitcher’s mound of a packed stadium.
“He committed his life to protecting our community, but he’s fallen into a terrible situation,” Buczkowski said. “We as a community should commit to doing what we can to help him, and a ballgame is a great place to do it. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about him walking out onto the field, throwing out the first pitch, and hearing people cheer for him.”