Buck's the System

Busk Showalter, the Diamondbacks' workaholic manager, proves that there is crying in baseball.

Then, while on the subject of perspective, he told how once, while driving from Yankee Stadium to his home in New Jersey, he'd pulled over to watch a Little League game.

He'd stopped for "the purity of the game," but instead found the reality -- and fled.

"I'm watching some of the parents and some of the coaches, and I just wanted to scream, "Let 'em play the game. They're kids. Why're you making it difficult for them?' The coach was screaming at the players, the parents screaming at the coaches, both of them screaming at the umpire.

Showalter does his daily standup for the press.
Paolo Vescia
Showalter does his daily standup for the press.
Midseason, a manager gets reflective.
Paolo Vescia
Midseason, a manager gets reflective.

"What kind of suggestion does that give a young kid? If my son doesn't want to pick up a ball of any type, believe me, it won't bother me one bit."

In fact, his son has already picked up the ball. The Diamondbacks allow players' sons ample access to the clubhouse and the field during batting practice, and there are usually a handful of little boys in authentic uniforms running around the warning track. On more than one occasion, Showalter stopped his conversation in midsentence to watch his son, Nathan, 8, play catch with one of the players or coaches. Nathan had taunted his older sister, Allie, 12, and she leaned on her father to institute daughters' days, when players can bring the girls, too.

Perspective comes from growing up in a small town.

That small town was Century, Florida, a Mayberrylike burg on the panhandle, just over the state line from Alabama. Showalter once let on to the press that he was fond of The Andy Griffith Show, and they repeated it until he was practically the president of the Andy Griffith fan club.

Still, Showalter admits that Mayberry reminds him of his hometown, that the show fits his criteria as something he can let his kids watch, and that Andy Griffith reminds him of his dad.

William Showalter Jr. was the high school principal and, according to one legend, he caught young Nat's first home run while sitting in a lounge chair in his backyard, which backed up to the Little League ballpark.

It was the first night Showalter's dad let him use a "big" 28-inch bat. Showalter senior would often find an excuse to be in the backyard when Showalter III had baseball practice, pretending to be raking leaves, when he was really watching. When Nat popped the ball out of the field, he scrambled off the lounge chair to catch it, and then refused to give it back to the umpire, instead sending one of Showalter's sisters into the house to get another ball so that they could continue the game.

Later, when Showalter was in college, his father would leave school, jump into his '59 Ford truck and drive two and a half hours to Chipola Junior College to watch Showalter play. He'd never tell him he was coming.

"I never even knew he was there," Showalter recalls. "He'd be out behind a tree in right center. After the game, one of the basketball players said, "Yeah, I sat in your dad's truck today and watched the game.'"

If those tales sound like Andy Griffith episodes, they're not the only Showalter stories that do.

In 1977, while he was playing at Mississippi State (he graduated with a B.S. in education), he was drafted by the New York Yankees and sent off to Fort Lauderdale to play first base.

Before he reported to the team, he threw a curve to the scout who signed him.

"If I were your son, what would you tell me to do?" he asked. "To take this offer or not take this offer?"

"There was a long silence," he recalls now, "and he says, 'I'll get back to you.'"

But he did take the offer, and drove all night to meet the team in Fort Lauderdale. Ed Napoleon, the manager, told him they'd be traveling to Miami that day to play the Padres' farm team. He suggested that Showalter ride the bus with them, dress out and sit in the dugout to get to know some of the guys.

While the team was taking batting practice, Showalter thought he'd read the batting roster to familiarize himself with the players' names.

"I go down the line, I get to the third hitter and it's Showalter," he remembers.

Even before he reached the minor leagues, Showalter had earned a reputation as the toughest guy on the field. Brian Butterfield, who has coached for Showalter since the minor leagues, remembers playing against him in the Cape Cod League, a summer league for college players. Butterfield played second base; his shortstop was afraid of Showalter when he was the runner on first, and would plead with Butterfield to "get me the ball quick," if Showalter was moving in his direction and the play was at second.

"He was real hard-nosed, very aggressive," Butterfield says. "You could tell while he was playing that he was going to be a manager. He was always talking situations. He would be the first one to the park and the last one to leave. As a player, he was by far the best student on the field."

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