"Forever Young" was the song that accompanied a video scrapbook of his career. Forever honored in Bisons history is how Jeff Manto will be remembered after the team retired his No. 30 Friday night at Dunn Tire Park.
"I am overwhelmed, absolutely overwhelmed," Buffalo's modern-era home run leader said after earning three standing ovations from the crowd of 15,076 during a 40-minute ceremony hosted by Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski. "I didn't expect anything like this. I've seen a couple of these jerseys retired (in other cities) and they give the guy the jersey."
Not here. In the most elaborate ceremony since the stadium's first Opening Day in 1988, Manto was showered with adoration.
To the strains of the score from "The Natural" and then Tina Turner's "Simply the Best," No. 30 was unveiled on the left-center field wall, taking its place alongside No. 6 (Ollie Carnegie) and No. 25 (Luke Easter) as the only numbers retired in the Bisons' 116 seasons.
"When I got called into the office (in Syracuse) and got told I'd been traded to Buffalo (in 1997), I looked on the map and it said I was moving farther away from home," Manto, a Philadelphia native, told the crowd. "As I drove down the New York State Thruway, little did I know that I was headed home."
It was a whirlwind day for Manto that began with Erie County Executive Joel Giambra proclaiming Friday as "Jeff Manto Day" in a ceremony at the Rath Building.
Even Mother Nature seemed to have a feel for the festivities. A strong wind buffeted the ballpark during the Bisons' doubleheader loss to Syracuse, blowing out hard to (where else?) the left-field screen, Manto's prime target in his four seasons.
Bisons President Bob Rich Jr. wore a black "Body By Manto" T-shirt, which was sold in the stadium gift shop during Manto's career to poke fun at his disdain for weightlifting. Rich joined his wife, Mindy, in presenting Manto with a trip to Italy.
The gifts also included: lifetime membership in the Bisons Booster Club; a framed No. 30 Bisons jersey; an action print by Buffalo native and former Bison Chris Snusz; and a plaque from the International League presented by President Randy Mobley.
Faxed tributes were read from Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles, a teammate in 1995, and two of Manto's close friends, New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine and Mets infielder Joe McEwing.
Video tributes to Manto were played from Cleveland Indians manager Charlie Manuel and bullpen coach Dave Keller, as well as former Buffalo teammates Bill Selby, Pat Borders and Richie Sexson. Now with the Milwaukee Brewers, Sexson was a Triple-A rookie with the '97 Bisons and quickly forged a friendship with the veteran Manto.
"What's up, buddy?" Sexson's video message began. "Maybe you should retire those blue boots in Buffalo, too, the ones you got in Oklahoma City (in 1997). . . . Tell them about the ugliest shoes I've ever seen."
"I thought I was a cowboy since I was Oklahoma City, and I was feeling goofy one day," Manto said. "I bought boots for me and my wife, and I thought they were the sharpest things ever. I walk in the clubhouse and I had 24 guys laughing at me."
No one laughed much at Manto on the field as he hit 79 home runs for the Herd from 1997-2000 and helped lead Buffalo to league championships in 1997 and 1998. A pair of teammates from those teams, infielder Torey Lovullo and catcher Steven Soliz, represented his former Buffalo teammates at the ceremony."To see those guys travel cross country from California and take time away from their families was really special," Manto said.