Buckner steps up for YSU baseball


By Brian Dzenis

bdzenis@vindy.com

BOARDMAN

Sometimes for a baseball team to win, a free-agent acquisition is needed.

That’s how former MLB great Bill Buckner viewed his visit to the Mahoning Valley, where he was one of the featured speakers at the Youngstown State baseball team’s First Pitch Breakfast on Saturday. The event — hosted by The Embassy — was a fundraiser for the team.

An estimated crowd of 500 attended.

“I’m here to try to help the college baseball team. I’ve been in charge of some fundraisers and I know it isn’t cheap to try to put a good team on the field,” Buckner said. “I have a son that played in college and college ball is a lot of fun. You’re still an amateur playing a game because you love it.”

Buckner’s career spanned parts of four decades, during which he had 2,715 hits, a .289 batting average and two World Series appearances. His career is often remembered for an error in Game 6 of the World Series. Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball through Buckner’s legs, which allowed the winning run and the Boston Red Sox lost the series in seven games.

Buckner brought up the gaffe when it was his time at the podium. He said when the error happened, he didn’t think much of it.

“When I missed it, I thought, ‘Wow, I get to play a seventh game in the World Series,’” Buckner said. “I had a really short memory.”

At the time, he was blamed for the Red Sox losing the series by fans and media. It took some time to get past it, but when he puts his entire career into perspective, he can live with the mistake.

“I hope you’re good with it, because I’m good with it,” said Buckner, who also played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, California Angels and Kansas City Royals.

Buckner’s career had a lot more going on than one moment in 1986. He shared stories of traveling in the minor leagues with manager Tommy Lasorda, who threatened to cut his own throat when Buckner hit two triples off him in a scrimmage. He learned to love the Los Angeles Dodgers after growing up as a San Francisco Giants fan and witnessed baseball history in Dodger blue. Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run — which put him ahead of Babe Ruth on all-time home run list — over Buckner’s head. He explained why he tried to climb the outfield fence in a futile attempt to get the ball.

“I heard a rumor that ball was going to be worth $50,000. I was making around $25,000 at the time, so you do the math,” Buckner said.

YSU coach Dan Bertolini was tasked with picking Buckner up from the airport and the Poland native used the time to pick the first baseman’s brain about the art of hitting. One impressive aspect of Buckner’s career was how he seldom struck out.

“He did coach in the minor leagues as well as being a great player. We talked about some of the new swings — the high-arcing and the new launch angles — he saw validity in it,” Bertolini said. “He only struck out 39 times in a season, so it was great to bounce ideas off of him.”

A fan asked Buckner if he had any memories of playing against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Two things immediately came to mind: the drum beat that he found annoying and a team he always enjoyed hitting against.

“Their pitching staff was so bad,” Buckner said. “You knew were getting numbers.”

His story of baseball longevity and perspective resonated with the current crop of YSU baseball players.

“I just see it as to just let the light shine brighter in your life, you know? You’re always going to be seeing dark times,” outfielder Trey Bridis said. “Failures are going to happen, but you just keep going towards the light and it’s the positives that outweigh the negatives.”

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