10/20/2002 8:35 pm ET
An emotional season for Joe Buck
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It is 3:30 p.m. on game day, and Joe Buck settles into the seat he will occupy for the next five-and-a-half hours. The FOX-TV broadcast booth is his office. It is also his sanctuary.
"Baseball has been a big escape for me," says the young yet veteran lead announcer on FOX's World Series team. "Getting to the park, doing the game, just getting ready for the game ... all the little things keep me going, give me a chance to put that stuff aside for a while."
"That stuff." A nice euphemism for the most emotionally-draining summer imaginable.
In July, St. Louis lost Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck.
Days later, the Cardinals lost Darryl Kile.
Joe Buck lost both. A caring, devoted father and role model. A respected, beloved member of the close-knit team for whom he broadcasts in his day job.
"I reflect from time to time," says Buck. That perpetual smile fades slightly as he quickly reflects on what has been a wonderful postseason, with moments worthy of being rehashed deep into the night.
"The worst part about it is, these games have been so much fun, but I can't call my dad afterward to talk to him about it. Really, that's where I miss him most right now. But that will go away."
Saturday night's Game 1. Second inning. There was a moment Joe could've re-lived over and over again, asking his dad, "Have you ever seen anything like that?"
When Barry Bonds stepped into the World Series batter's box for the first time, reaching the destination of a 17-year journey, and fulfilled his obligation by creaming a Jarrod Washburn pitch over the wall ... well, love him or endure him, you had to bow to him.
"I think it's neat that he's been able to step up and do something good," Buck, who does not fall into the love camp, says of this World Series' dominant personality. "Everybody has an opinion about Barry Bonds and for the people in the media, it's usually not a very good opinion.
"So he's not a warm and fuzzy guy. Nowhere is it written that to be a great player a guy's got to kiss up to the media. He's not expected to do that. I have to be bigger than that. The country is watching a great player, and you've got to give him credit. I'm the first guy in line to do that."
It is a sincere expression of respect, although Buck realizes that whatever image is retained from this World Series, chances are fair Bonds will be a part of it.
"If you're a baseball fan at all, you have to enjoy seeing him in a World Series," Buck says. "There is something that makes you smile about him hitting a home run in his first World Series at-bat.
"Arguably, he's one of the best players of all time. He's the single-season home run champ, and the odds are better than ever he'll also be the all-time home run champ, now that he's shown what he can do at an advanced age."
An ironic acknowledgment from someone who has evidenced what can be done at a premature age. In his early 30s, Buck has already been a prominent voice on the national stage for years.
In addition to working baseball for the Cardinals' network and FOX, he is also the national network's lead announcer on NFL telecasts.
So even after the last baseball is caught and the ultimate trophy is awarded, he will remain on the go.
"Football will take me through January," he says, "but I'll still have some time to sit back and think about other things than who hits a 2-and-2 pitch the best.
"I'm looking forward to (the World Series) being over, and having a chance to go home and be with my kids and my family. And maybe, for the first time, relax a little bit.
"But for now, I'm excited to be here. It has been an emotional summer for a number of reasons ... everything that went on in St. Louis. It has also been a year when I've grown up a lot. I learned some lessons I'd only read about or heard about from my wife, about what it's like to lose a parent."
There is a little pain every time Joe's eyes fall on a diamond, because dad's eyes beheld the same emerald canvas. But he's comforted by the knowledge his dad's memory is secure as long as there are slides into second in a cloud of dust, and fans to applaud them.
"My mom (Carole) said the other day in San Francisco, 'I don't want this season to end because I don't want people to forget about your dad,' and I said," Joe Bucks says, smiling in recalling the reply, "nobody will ever forget about him."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.