Watching the Fox TV coverage of the “Dressed to the Nines” Negro Leagues tribute game between my two favorite teams is reminding me about my only interaction with a Negro Leaguer.
It was a blistering hot summer day for a Sunday afternoon game between the Royals and Mariners just about a decade ago. In fact, it was miserable as I pulled up to Kaufmann Stadium well before first pitch. And it didn’t get any better as game time approached.
Matter of fact, my eyeballs were stinging with sweat about 20 minutes before first pitch — and just a few minutes before I saw Buck O’Neil walking amongst the crowd.
There were a lot of us squirming in sweat puddles that afternoon. Even if he had been seated, I don’t think O’Neil would have been fazed one bit.
Normally, my pregame attention focuses on anything from batting practice to fielding warmups to the grounds crew. Not this time. I watched as O’Neil chatted, smiled and moved on. Eventually, O’Neil passed my seat, tapped me on the toe and simply said, “All right” before disappearing into the tunnel below.
I paused for several seconds before hustling after O’Neil, hoping to just thank him for brightening my day (well, more than that…I had visions of an on-air interview dancing in my head)…but he had too big of a head start and disappeared in an elevator .
There are a lot of people who knew Buck. There are also a lot of people who know a lot more about Buck than I do. But the one thing my short interaction with Buck impressed upon me was how he would go out of his way to make a person’s life brighter. It was like that before he came up to me. People went to Buck to chat, but Buck found people he knew and people he didn’t.
Buck’s gone a few years now, but every time I see a Negro Leagues tribute game — heck, every time I go to Kauffman — I take that memory with me.