WINONA LAKE – Bill Buckner looks like he could still step in the batter’s box and hit Major League pitching.
There’s no doubt that the now 64-year old former Major League standout can step into the tee box and hit a golf ball these days.
“I shot a 76, my best round this summer, yesterday and that was with borrowed clubs and borrowed shoes,” related Buckner Tuesday night. “I thought about keeping that putter.”
The amiable Buckner shared his thoughts on a variety of topics prior to being the Keynote Speaker for Opening Ceremonies for the BPA World Series held at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on the Grace College campus.
The BPA World Series, being hosted at the CCAC in Warsaw, began this morning and runs through Sunday.
Buckner’s message about the game to hundreds of players gathered for Opening Ceremonies was a simple one.
“I’m going to tell them to have fun playing the game,” said Buckner prior to his speech. “You need to be coachable and listen. And you can control the effort you put into it.”
Buckner, a smooth first baseman, spent 22 years in the big leagues. He played for five teams from 1969-90, but is best known to fans around here as the first baseman of the Cubs from 1977-84. Buckner, a native of California, began his career with the Dodgers and also spent a long stint with the Red Sox.
“I think the Cubs are on the right track,” Buckner said when asked about his old team as they continue to try and build a winner. “They are developing from within, making good draft choices and stockpiling up young talent.”
Buckner won the National League batting title as a Cub in 1980 when he hit .324. A year later, he made an All-Star appearance for the North Siders. He finished his career with a batting average of .289 to go with 2,715 hits and 1,208 RBI.
“All three were special to play for,” said Buckner of the Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers. “It was a thrill to play in the World Series twice and to get 200 hits as a player in both leagues too.”
Buckner, who just retired in March following a coaching stint, played in the two oldest ball parks in the Majors in Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
“I really love the newer parks, like the one in Fort Wayne,” said Buckner, who had just made appearances at a Tin Caps game and also in Indianapolis in the past few days.
Buckner ended his career in 1990 with the Red Sox. It was in Boston that Buckner had the toughest moment of his career in 1986 when his fielding error on a grounder hit by Mookie Wilson in Game Six of the World Series enabled the Mets to score the winning run in the ninth inning. The Mets, who had trailed Boston three games to two, went on to win game seven and take the championship.
Buckner returned to Fenway Park for the home opener in 2008 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on the day the Red Sox unfurled their 2007 World Series banner. He was moved by the response of the Boston faithful.
“That was very special to me,” said Buckner of his reception in Boston. “I was a little bitter with the media in regards to what they put me and my family through, but I had to get past that and I did.
“It was a good thing to be back there in 2008. It brought tears to my eyes at the time. I appreciated the Red Sox fans and the organization for doing that.”