Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday Diary / Me and my good friend Buster the ball player

Saturday, June 26, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Do you remember me?"

On a list of questions that a professional journalist shouldn't ask a professional athlete, "Do you remember me?" falls somewhere above "Can you sign my notepad?" and somewhere below "Can I borrow a dollar?"

Two months ago, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants and I were in the bowels of Cashman Field in Las Vegas. He was in the minor leagues with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies and I was a reporting intern at the Las Vegas Sun.

We're both 22, and we're both learning on the job.

"So ... what ..." I began, near the end of the interview. "I mean, actually, I don't have another question, but I feel like I should ask another one. Have you been to Vegas before?"

"I came here last year," he said, "Last September when I was called up, so I didn't see too much of the town, was just over at the Golden Nugget."

Then he stopped himself.

"Wait. I don't know if you want to say Golden Nugget or not, you might have to think of something else."

I agreed. We laughed. Accidental commercial endorsement and all that.

But I did have another question on that hot, dry April afternoon, one that went unasked in the name of professionalism -- as if a conversation between a guy in a backwards baseball cap and baggy jeans and a guy in a straight baseball cap and cut-off shorts would have anything to do with professionalism.

"Should I pick you up on my fantasy team?"

Well ... the interview came and went, he hit the ball, I wrote the story, somebody picked him up on a fantasy team and I was left with Jason Kendall as my catcher.

Earlier this month, on June 4, Buster Posey and I crossed paths once again, and this time, I was determined to ask the borderline awkward question I didn't ask the first time.

The week before, Posey had traded in his Triple-A duds for a real-deal major-league uniform and, after hitting a shade under .475 in his first five games with the Giants, came to Pittsburgh for a weekend series against the Pirates.

Now reporting for the Post-Gazette, I stood inside the entrance of the visitor's dugout at PNC Park that Friday afternoon, awkwardly acknowledging the passing big-league players with eye contact and head nods, all the while wondering, would Buster Posey remember me?

Two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Tim Lincecum walked by, looking ripped. One-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Barry Zito stood by, looking normal -- despite his $126 million contract.

Then there's Buster Posey. And me.

Posey works as a baseball player and gets paid in dollars, millions of them. I work as a reporter and get paid in academic credits, three of them.

But he's still got his baby fat. And I've still got some acne.

He's still a young catcher-turned-first-baseman learning on the job. I'm still a young sports-reporter-turned-news-reporter learning on the job.

From his locker in the back corner of the clubhouse, Buster Posey bounces toward the front to check out the batting practice lineup on the wall behind me.

I approach and extend a hand.

"What's up, man?" I say, more than ask.

"Hey," he answers, with an absent look on his face, shaking my hand.

He doesn't remember me. Can't.

"Do you remember me?" I ask.

He pauses. Stares blankly. Definitely doesn't remember me.

"I talked to you in Vegas," I continue, "Earlier this year when ..."

He cracks half a smile.

"Oh yeah," he says. "Yeah, I thought I saw you before."

We talk for a few minutes -- about his call-up, the big leagues, playing first base. I ask the obligatory follow-up questions, even though I already had the answer to the one question I really wanted to ask.

Yes, Buster Posey did remember me.

Kind of.

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