Cubs prospects grateful to Bill Buckner for his help
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 6, 2014 10:11PM
Updated: March 7, 2014 7:28PM
MESA, Ariz. — Kris Bryant had a vague idea of the history behind his new hitting coach when he got his first pro assignment out of rookie camp in Mesa last summer.
But only because his dad, Mike — a former Boston Red Sox farmhand — had vivid memories of former batting champion Bill Buckner.
“He was like, ‘Oh, you’re hitting coach is Bill Buckner,’ ” Kris said. “My dad grew up in the Boston area, so he was always a Red Sox fan. He was definitely one of his favorites.”
The year Mike Bryant was drafted by the Red Sox, in the ninth round in 1980, Buckner won a batting title for the Cubs. Six years later with the Red Sox, he famously didn’t win the 1986 World Series after that Game 6 grounder went through him at first base.
This week, Buckner, 64, retired from baseball after two years as the hitting coach for the Cubs’ short-season Class A Boise Hawks.
“Just too much time away,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “My wife has put up with it for 30-something years. … I will miss it.
“I enjoyed working with the kids. Some of them I worked with the last couple years are getting at-bats in spring training. That’s fun to watch.”
Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, who worked directly with Buckner the last two years as the Cubs’ minor-league field coordinator and then as player-development director, said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by Buckner’s retirement and planned to reach out to him.
“He was just an extremely hard worker and was really passionate about the players,” Hyde said. “What a great experience for our guys coming out of the draft to work closely with him on a daily basis.”
Given the level of draft picks through Boise during Buckner’s time there, his legacy might eventually include an influence on the homegrown core the Cubs envision at Wrigley Field in the next few years.
“What that guy brought to the game of baseball, his knowledge, was unbelievable,” said one of those players, 2012 No. 6 overall pick Albert Almora — who admits he didn’t know Buckner’s All-Star, 2,715-hit pedigree before he got to Boise.
But after a few days there, “You could tell,” Almora said. “We were definitely blessed to have him. The guy knew more about baseball than a lot of people I know. He was awesome.”
Almora and Bryant, both in their first big-league camps, are backing up their hype with impressive habits and performances.
“I had a great time [with Buckner],” Bryant said, whose takeaways included, “his preparation before games. He wouldn’t come up to you and tell you to come out there. But he was always there, ready to flip you balls or put the ball on the tee. He was just willing to help. It was a great resource to have there in Boise, and I was thankful that I got the opportunity to play under him.
“And he’s an awesome guy. He’s really funny. He’s a good guy to be around.”