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“In the frozen grip of winter…”

Jan 23, 2011, 3:34 PM EDT

buck in st. louis

I had the great pleasure of meeting Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck in 2001 when I was 14 years old.  I was an eighth grader, going into freshman year of high school.  My friend’s dad was his personal accountant and Buck had told my friend to “come say hello” whenever he made it to games that summer.  We only used that invitation once — didn’t want to be gnats — but that one visit is still fresh in my mind.

Buck and Mike Shannon would split innings sometimes; often it was a one-man booth.  Just two St. Louis landmarks, doing whatever they please and doing it remarkably well.

Buck was just wrapping up the bottom of the fourth inning.  The Cards were playing the Pirates for the 80th-or-so time that season.  He came up a couple of smalls steps toward where we were standing, in a tight lobby behind the old Busch Stadium announcer’s booth, and got a few notes from his son Joe as he strolled closer.  I don’t remember him being in bad health.  He seemed to be walking fine.

Buck shook my friend’s hand as I stood there deciding whether to be starstruck or embarrassed.  We looked a little out of place in the professional setting.  He said, “you boys hungry?” as he shook my hand, asked my name, and took us over to the press box grill.

Buck gave a quick nod to the man with the metal spatula and looked at us.  “Let me show you how to make a burger,” he said in that classic voice of his, a voice that made everything sound important, and good and worthy.  The man behind the grill tossed three patties onto the sizzling stovetop, then carefully made small cuts into the center of the meat.  “If you try to flatten it, you lose that juice,” Buck told us.  The man behind the grill agreed.  Grease is your friend at the ballpark.

Buck also grabbed a pack of Nutter Butters and poured them into a bowl.  Dessert.

We sat down at a table and I did my best to act confident, not shy.  “Pujols is awesome,” I efforted.

It was Albert’s rookie year.  And he was awesome.  “I can tell you, that guy has worked his tail off since spring training,” Buck replied.  Pujols would go on to hit 37 home runs that season with 130 RBI, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors by the ninth unanimous vote in baseball history.

Buck put mustard, ketchup and relish on each of our burgers at the table.  I was as picky as most teenagers and probably would have preferred a simple dollop of ketchup, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I was still fighting a feeling that we might be annoying a man at work.  No, a legend at work.

Buck asked my friend about his summer plans, he answered a few more Chris Farley Show-like questions from me and then he had to head back to the booth to call the bottom of the fifth.  Before he did, we snapped a picture and I asked him to sign my ticket stub.  I won’t ever lose those.

This portion of the baseball calendar always reminds me of Jack Buck, as strange as that might sound.  Beyond being a great broadcaster both on the radio and on television, he was a skilled writer of poetry.  Here’s a fitting excerpt for the January baseball fan from his poem “365.”

In the frozen grip of winter
I’m sure you’ll agree with me
Not a day goes by without someone
Talking baseball to some degree.

The calendar flips on New Year’s Day
The Super Bowl comes and it goes
Get the other sports out of the way
The green grass and the fever grows.

It’s time to pack a bag and take a trip
To Arizona or the Sunshine State
Perhaps you can’t go, but there’s the radio
So you listen-you root-you wait.

They start the campaign, pomp and pageantry reign
You claim the pennant on Opening Day

  1. elmaquino - Jan 23, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    nice piece, man

  2. talbaugh - Jan 23, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    The reason there are so many Cards fans in the states bordering Missouri – the Cardinals themselves or Jack Buck and Mike Shannon on radio for so many years? I happily admit to being wooed by the latter.

    – an Iowan

    • ultimatecardinalwarrior - Jan 23, 2011 at 11:47 PM

      It’s all of them, yet none of them at the same time: the station that broadcasts the Cardinals, KMOX, for years had a strong enough signal that people hundreds of miles away could pick it up. So Jack Buck or Mike Shannon would call the games that people in Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, southern Illinois and Kentucky could all hear. There wasn’t really any competition.

  3. Utley's Hair - Jan 23, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Nice writeup. I have a problem with one thing, though. 14-years-old in 2001? You suck.

    • cintiphil - Jan 23, 2011 at 10:51 PM

      Somebody sucks, but it is not Drew. Look in the mirror.

    • umrguy42 - Jan 24, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      It doesn’t make him suck, it just makes him too damn young. (Or me too damn old?)

      God, I miss Jack…

  4. spudchukar - Jan 23, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    Thanks for sharing the great story. I was fortunate enough to spend many an evenings in the Cardinal locker room, but meeting Jack Buck was as much of a thrill as any player. Just imagine, when I was a kid, many, many, many, many years earlier than you I was blessed with 3 innings of Harry Carey, then 3 innings of Joe Garagiola, and then 3 innings of Jack Buck transmitting over my transistor radio. Times change, but I know I was blessed having Baseball brought to life for me by Jack Buck.

    • Drew Silva - Jan 24, 2011 at 8:20 AM

      Very cool. Thank you.

  5. jackrabbit56 - Jan 23, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    As a kid in upstate NY I used to skim the AM radio dial. I was fortunate enough to pick up KMOX at night and pick up Cardinal games. Jack Buck had the greatest sign-off ever — “Thanks for your time this time. ‘Til next time, good night.”

  6. 78mu - Jan 23, 2011 at 11:15 PM

    When the Cardinals had an open house in the late ’90s I took my 9 year old son and three of his classmates to the stadium for autographs and pictures. In the afternoon we stood in line to get their picture taken with Buck and Stan Musial.

    After an afternoon of greeting sweaty fans, Buck was as nice as could be to the boys, asking them what position they played and how their team did. Instead of rushing everyone through, Buck made sure the kids had time to talk to Musial. It was typical Buck where he was more concerned about helping others than acting like a prima donna.

  7. baseballstars - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:55 AM

    Jack Buck was a GREAT announcer, capable of making legendary and exciting calls. I just wish his son was the same.

  8. Jonny 5 - Jan 24, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    Awesome story Drew. You’re very lucky. Umm everyone knows mustard, ketchup, and relish are awesome on a burger. I prefer dill pickles to the relish, but it’s close enough.. I’m glad JB schooled you on how to top a burger properly. I really don’t like his son much when it comes to announcing baseball games, it’s as if he doesn’t enjoy.

  9. BC - Jan 24, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    Buck still has the greatest call I’ve ever heard live – the Kirk Gibson HR in the 1988 World Series. Guy was incredible. Didn’t hear him very often, living in New England. I’ll never forget that call, though. Still gives me chills when I hear it. Awesome.

    • Panda Claus - Jan 24, 2011 at 10:56 AM

      I agree about the Gibson call. “I don’t believe what I just saw”, or something close to that.

      • BC - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:02 AM

        Found it.

    • umrguy42 - Jan 24, 2011 at 2:25 PM

      That was a nice one, but as a Cards homer I’ll *always* prefer:

      “Smith corks one into right, down the line! It may go…Go crazy, folks! Go crazy! It’s a home run! And the Cardinals have won the game, by the score of 3-2, on a home run by The Wizard! Go crazy!”

  10. BC - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Jeezus, Drew! You were born when I was a junior in college???!?!
    I suddenly feel older than dirt.

    • Drew Silva - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:06 AM

      But you’re a wise and experienced dirt.

      • BC - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:07 PM

        Hey, I’m 43, I feel like I’m 73, and I act like I’m 13. So mathematically it all evens out.

  11. holliswatson - Jan 24, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    It’s always the right time of year to remember the great Jack Buck. A fantastic play-by-play man and an all-around humanitarian.

    I once approached him after a game to get his autograph on a scorecard, and he couldn’t have been more gracious. For a kid who lived in the middle of nowhere and listened to every pitch on the Cards’ Radio Network, it was quite a thrill. We still miss you, Jack.

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