Cortland woman tells of cheering, meeting Triston McKenzie
Editor’s note: Mary Ann Herrington of Cortland is a retired writer and copy editor (1994 to 2015) for the Dunkirk, N.Y., Observer, where she won four state awards for feature and column writing. Here, she writes her own story about meeting Cleveland Guardians (and former Mahoning Valley Scrappers) pitcher Triston McKenzie. “It is my tribute and my birthday gift to Triston, who in my humble opinion should have won the MLB Roberto Clemente Award.” McKenzie turned 26 on Aug. 2.
He digs Doe Boy rap while she prefers polkas.
He is into video games; she calls radio talk shows.
At 26, he is an African-American rising superstar in the world of baseball. At 72, she is a long-retired Polish-American widow.
Nicknames, anyone? He goes by “Dr. Sticks.” She answers to “Busia” (BOO-shaw).
HE is Triston McKenzie, starting pitcher for the Cleveland Guardians.
SHE is Mary Ann Herrington of small-town Cortland. Together, they have formed a heartfelt connection that transcends the generations.
To fully understand how this unique rapport came to fruition, it is best to start at the beginning.
For the first two seasons of Triston’s Major League Baseball career, Busia (the term of affection for a Polish grandmother) would be glued to her TV, cheering wildly from her couch and praying for him with every pitch. Without a doubt, she was completely mesmerized by the ups and downs of his development in the big leagues.
Busia always held a soft spot in her heart for each player who got their start in baseball with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers since her daughter, Roxie, has been a front office employee of the team for nearly a decade.
But Triston stood out from all the others. He was in a class by himself — animated and fun to watch. His pitches often seemed to defy the laws of physics. Eventual Cy Young material, for sure. But when Busia began to research her new baseball idol, she was in for a pleasant surprise.
Triston McKenzie was more than just stellar on the mound. He was equally impressive in his work with our precious youth. He has left no stone unturned in going to bat for what the baby boomer generation calls “our children’s children.” A mentor and role model to impressionable middle schoolers, he works feverishly in his free time to ensure the path they choose in life is a positive one.
For his tireless efforts on behalf of our nation’s youngsters, Triston was nominated by the Guardians, at the tender age of 25, for the 2022 MLB Roberto Clemente Award. As a player for a small-market team, it would be an uphill battle to garner enough fan votes to claim this award.
Dr. Sticks did not win this time around, but Busia vowed to make it her mission to see that he was once again publicly recognized for his dedication to his young fan base.
As she watched him throwing heat, smoking the opposing batters much more consistently now during the 2022 season, Busia would say to herself, ‘I’m going to meet this kid someday. I don’t know how, when or where, I just know it’s going to happen. I can feel it in these old bones.”
“Someday” began to evolve last September when out of the blue she received an email from her daughter slugged, “Here’s your chance!” The Akron Rubber Ducks were hosting a hot stove banquet to benefit Akron Children’s Hospital in January with Triston slated to headline the event.
Busia recruited her newfound life partner, Tony Bayer, also known as “Pennsylvania Tony,” to accompany her to the event. Tony had long possessed a large, framed vintage picture of Roberto Clemente and was eager to pass it on to the latest Guardians’ Roberto Clemente Award nominee. And with the assistance of a graphic artist, she set about to craft a certificate of appreciation for Triston on behalf of his many, many senior fans from his days as a Scrapper.
The stage had been set.
And so it came to pass that on Jan. 28, 2023, Busia would first meet her sports hero face to face onstage with nearly 300 of his other adoring fans looking on. She was introduced to the room as the “Number One Fan of Triston McKenzie,” although her certificate bore “#1 Senior Fan” beneath her signature.
But instinctively, she reacted with a rousing off-mic, “YOU GOT THAT RIGHT” directed to the master of ceremonies, WAKR’s Ray Horner. He, in turn, quickly repeated to the crowd, “Hear that? YOU GOT THAT RIGHT!”
From that point on, Busia stole the show as she sang the praises of her baseball idol with humor and warmth. The audience reacted with eight lively rounds of applause and 16 outbursts of laughter within a five-minute span. Their poignant facetime was preserved on a video titled “Triston McKenzie meets Busia,” which is posted on youtube.com.
Triston spontaneously hugged Busia in grateful response to her proclamation from the Mahoning Valley Scrappers senior fans honoring him as “an exemplary role model for our children’s children” and for his “steadfast commitment to the positive development of our youth.”
True to form, prior to the banquet, the affable young pitcher had spent close to three hours at Akron Children’s Hospital, playing video games and LEGOs with the in-patient children. The magic of Dr. Sticks’ presence instantly lifted their spirits, creating a sea of gap-toothed smiles.
Offstage, Busia asked Triston to be a role model for her 4-year-old grandson, Nolan, confident she could make that happen because “I’m his busia.” To her surprise and delight, he responded with, “I’m going to call you Busia from now on.”
Fast-forward six months to the Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Ohio 5K Race for Kids held June 24 at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Busia, her daughter and grandson participated in the 1-mile walk while Triston served as the ambassador for the event, which raised $140,000 for a truly deserving cause.
Prior to the start of his official duties, Dr. Sticks and Busia chatted like old friends. Nolan strolled over to join them as the B&G Club photographer prepared to capture this special Kodak moment. But the best was yet to come.
Busia slowly unraveled a huge red and white McKenzie24 banner, explaining it was a gift to her from Pennsylvania Tony on the occasion of their first anniversary together. As Triston was signing it, Busia reminded him that she inadvertently had been elevated to Number One fan at their initial meeting in Akron.
“I just consider myself your Number One SENIOR fan,” she confided to him.
“No. You’re my Number One FAN — after my mother,” Triston reassured her. And with those kind words, Busia’s lifelong passion for Cleveland baseball, which began at the age of 6, finally had been validated in her golden years.
Upon hearing of this impromptu conversation at the zoo, Tony was quick to comment, “If two people from such diverse backgrounds can find common ground, then there is still hope for this country, the world and future generations.”
To which Busia was happy to respond, “YOU GOT THAT RIGHT!”