MY MOM tells me that when I was three or four, I saw my dad on television and I went running up to the TV set because I thought he was stuck inside it, somehow jammed into that little box.
I'm thinking a lot about my dad these days because I realize how special this baseball season would have been for him. But I also think a lot about my mother because the whole town is celebrating the Cardinals, and she doesn't have my dad to share it with, so there's a big hole in her life.
My mother and the rest of our family were all at Busch Stadium last Thursday night for Game 7 of the NLCS, but we weren't all sitting together. When Scott Rolen hit the home run in the sixth inning to give the Cardinals the lead, they flashed on the video scoreboard a sign that somebody was holding up: THIS ONE'S FOR YOU, JACK. We all caught it from different parts of the stadium, and it put a lump in all of our throats that some fan bothered to print out a sign and hold it up at a moment like that to honor him.
My dad was the kind of guy who went to bed thinking about the Cardinals, and when he woke up, the first thing he thought about was how the Cardinals played the night before. The Cardinals set his daily mood. He used to say how they could give him a bad belly no matter how they played.
By the time I was 11, I was going to nearly every Cardinals home game and had already been to every road city. Even though I was a kid, my dad and I connected, and I could tell he loved to have me with him on the road. I was the kind of kid he could leave in the room while he went down to get a drink at the hotel bar. We would share breakfast and lunch and go to the stadium together. I'd usually put on a little Cardinals uniform and run around in the outfield and shag flyballs before the game. If I felt like it, I could even batboy during the game.
I was 13 during the 1982 World Series, and I remember being in the Cardinals' clubhouse for the celebration afterward. My dad told me to get him a Bud Light, so I went into the clubhouse to get him his beer, and one of the equipment guys who was a little more strict than the others said to me, "You can't have that. You're only 13." I said that it was for my dad, and he gave me a yeah, right look. I delivered the beer to my dad and watched the Cardinals players bouncing around in the clubhouse, throwing champagne on each other. When a team wins and you get to witness it firsthand, it's something you don't ever forget.
Of course I'll never forget my 18th birthday either. It was April 25, 1987, and I was in New York, sitting in the back of the broadcast booth at Shea Stadium, watching Joe Magrane's major league debut. In the fifth inning I was talking to our radio engineer when I heard my dad say, "And now for the fifth inning, here's my son, the birthday boy, Joe Buck." Then he and Mike Shannon got up and left the booth. I jumped to the mike and started talking. I've said it a thousand times since then: Thank God it was just a one-two-three inning that lasted three minutes. Anyway, I got through the inning, sat back down next to our engineer and said, "How about that?" He smiled and said, "It lacked description." It was as bare-bones and basic as possible, but my dad said afterward that he knew I could handle an inning of play-by-play. He wasn't trying to embarrass me. He was just trying to give me a birthday thrill.
I always knew he was something special. We'd walk out of the stadium together when I was a kid, and I'd see people lined up to get his autograph. Even on the road, people would come up to shake his hand. They just wanted to be near him. I wasn't the smartest kid, but I didn't have to be to realize people liked having him around.
I did, too.
Joe Buck is an Emmy Award--winning broadcaster for Fox Sports. He is calling his seventh World Series this week.
RONALD C. MODRA
Devoted to each other and to the Cards, the Bucks had a ball in the booth.