Walking into Coca-Cola Field, Jeff Manto is reminded of one thing – winning.
That was the edict when he was a player for the Buffalo Bisons 17 years ago. That's what makes the downtown ballpark special to Manto, who was sporting a 30th anniversary shirt, freshly purchased from the gift shop, before the Bisons hosted the Norfolk Tides Wednesday night.
"It was the energy," Manto said of what made him love playing in the downtown Buffalo stadium. "I think for me, this was the first time, and for a lot of players in Triple-A especially, this is the place where you come to win. I think that's very important when you come here to play. I think a lot of people, if they don't understand it the first couple weeks that they're here, they sure understand it the third week. This is a place where you come to win. Yeah, you can come to develop, and that's fine. But mostly you come here to win. That's a really great thing to have especially in Triple-A."
Manto had a nomadic pro baseball life before landing in Buffalo in 1997. He spent parts of the next four seasons with the Herd and made a lasting mark during his time with the Bisons, setting the club's modern era record for home runs (79) and being part of the 1998 team that won the Governors' Cup championship.
He is one of three players to have his number retired by the franchise, along with Ollie Carnegie and Luke Easter, and is a member of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame and the International League Hall of Fame. For all the success, the memories always revolve around relationships.
"The one thing I do miss are the friendships here," Manto said. "That really becomes almost the primary thing that you miss the most. You come back and you share stories of how we got here, that becomes more fun than you thought."
The 52-year-old is working while taking a slight jaunt down memory lane. Manto is the minor-league hitting coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles. He's a roving coach, in Buffalo these three days to work with the Tides. He'll spend time this summer all through the Orioles organization, bringing a fresh eye to the age-old problem of trying to hit a baseball.
"Each level has a different priority," Manto said. "The priority down in A-ball is the mechanics. When you get to Double-A, you've got to make sure you understand how to play baseball. It's not about your mechanics – it's about learning what the pitcher is trying to do, it's learning about hitting in different situations. So you have the ability to get that point across and share your experiences.
"When you get to Triple-A, it's a whole different level. You're not talking mechanics at all anymore. You're talking the back end of a bullpen, you're talking pregame preparation, you're talking in-game preparation, how to make adjustments. Each level has its priorities. That's the beauty about being part of the development side of baseball."
And while technology and sabermetrics have changed some aspects of the game, for Manto, hitting, at its heart, remains the same.
"I think I'm all right to say the more they change, the more they stay the same," Manto said. "Guys are always trying to tweak it. Guys are always trying to put their name on something. They're always trying to be the next pioneer of hitting but yet when you break down the tape, every good hitter gets to the same point. Every good hitter hits like Pete Rose, like George Brett, like Frank Thomas, the Griffeys. They get to the same point in their swings, it's just how they get there. And what's happening in baseball today is players are getting polluted with information that's really not necessary and it's holding a lot of people back. Hitting is the same."