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Griffin plays ball again; Nearly completed sculpture for ballpark captures late mayor

For those who knew him, the life-size, plasticine-crafted figure looked just like the late Mayor James D. Griffin as they viewed it in the lobby of the Tri-Main Building where it took up residence for a couple of hours Wednesday night.

The rendering of a trim and scrappy man in a suit and tie, arm coiled to throw a pitch, was uncanny in its capturing of the former mayor who died in 2008, according to the two dozen family and close friends at the early unveiling of the nearly completed sculpture.

"It's a little surreal, you know, to see your dad in a sculpture, a statue," said Maureen Griffin-Tomczak, a daughter of the late mayor. "It's great. It's his expression throwing the ball. It's really a great honor."

Family, friends and political supporters have worked tirelessly raising funds for the statue.

Once it is completed, by late summer, a bronze version of the sculpture will take up permanent residence outside Coca-Cola Field, the downtown ballpark that the city's four-term chief executive helped build more than two decades ago.

"This is the 25th anniversary of the ballpark, so I'm really glad that we didn't push this project any faster because the timing couldn't have worked out any better," said Griffin-Tomczak.

Local sculptor William Koch designed the sculpture from a photograph that was taken of Griffin preparing to throw the ball, possibly the first pitch at an early game in the ballpark.

Koch has been working on the sculpture for months and plans to do the metal casting in Sanford, Fla.

Koch said the next processes involved in completing the sculpture include working with rubber molds and waxes before it's all dipped into a ceramic mold that will then be filled with bronze.

"After the bronze is poured in, then they have to weld it all together, because the whole piece gets chopped apart. So, actually what you're seeing now gets destroyed," Koch said, of the pink putty-colored plasticine sculpture on display Wednesday.

The figure stands a little over six feet, which is a few inches taller than Griffin was in life. However, because the statue will be displayed at ground level, Koch said the few extra inches were necessary so it would not be dwarfed by its surroundings.

Koch said working with a figure in action posed a few challenges.

"Getting the pose to work is tough," he said. "I mean, it's easy to make someone who is just standing straight, but you're trying to produce something that looks like action happening. So you have to keep tweaking the armature along the way. As you build the figure out, you probably wind up cutting it apart five or six times to rearrange arms and legs."

Former city Parks Commissioner Stanley A. Buczkowski, a longtime political ally and self-described "old, old friend" of Griffin, was among those who attended the unveiling of the partially completed statue.

"That's him, the profile. It's amazing, I think," Buczkowski said. "That's how the mayor was. I remember him throwing the first pitch out on opening day. It was, perhaps 25 years [ago], at the stadium. He had the suit on, playing catch with Gov. [Mario] Cuomo. He went out there in his suit and threw the first pitch.

"I think the sculptor, Bill, he did a great job."