'Busting for Buster'

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

LEESBURG -- Every time Giants catcher Buster Posey comes to the plate in San Francisco, the PA system blasts out the theme from Ghostbusters, but when the song comes to the chorus, the crowd shouts: "Go Buster!''

If you're driving through Lee County and listen closely, you can almost hear that same shout echoing from Leesburg to Albany, to Americus, then back again.

Posey, the boy-wonder who has stolen the heart of San Francisco and taken big league baseball and shaken it up by its very roots, is still just Buster around these parts, a home-grown hero who has been on the ride of his life this summer -- from the minors to the World Series.

And Lee County has been on that same thrilling journey, right by Posey's side, throwing every pitch, and still hanging on for the ride of its life.

They have arrived together in the World Series.

"Everybody is busting for Buster,'' said Jim Hill, a native of Philadelphia and longtime Lee County resident, who turned on his Phillies when they played Posey's Giants in the NLCS.

"I don't even like San Francisco, but I'm a Giants fan now, because I'm a Buster fan,'' Hill said. "I'm from Philly and watched the Whiz Kids play in the 1950s, but I was pulling for Buster and the Giants last week to get to the World Series.''

Buster and the Giants play host on Wednesday to the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series -- a World Series that now belongs, at least in part, to Lee County.

"I guess it does,'' said Chase Patrick, a senior on Lee County High's baseball team. "It's like it's our World Series because of Buster. We've had a few people make it in professional sports, but no one as big as Buster. Everyone knows who Buster is. He's brought a lot of attention to Lee County.''

And Lee County has thrown its arms around him.

Just look at the sign at Heldenberg's AutoCare Center on Highway 19, just south of Leesburg. It reads "You Go Buster.''

"You're going to see a lot more signs like this one the closer we get to Wednesday and the World Series,'' said Tom Heldenberg on Monday afternoon. "When you get a hometown kid like Buster, a guy who is respected in every way, why wouldn't you (put up a sign)?"

Heldenberg has known the Posey family for years. He coached against Buster back in the Little League days. He said nothing has changed. Posey was first-class back then and first-class now.

"He has great parents, and he has always contributed to the community,'' Heldenberg said. "He's a true reflection of Lee County. He's a real down-to-earth player who has always believed in showing some class, winning or losing.''

But it's more than Posey's talent, which runs like a river, it's the man himself.

"He demonstrates the values we want to teach our kids,'' Heldenberg said. "It's about his character. And he is also a great athlete.''

One San Francisco writer depicted Posey's boyhood charm last week, saying "Buster Posey is the kind of kid who would go behind the barn to chew a piece of gum.''

None of that is lost on Lee County, where they learned a long time ago about Posey's modest, yet driven personality, his toughness and grace -- and his no nonsense approach to the game. He's sharp, calculated and rock-hard tough, but plays the game with the joy of a kid who just discovered it.

And somehow he balances all that with a genuine charm that makes everyone around him in the big leagues want to look twice at a kid who seems too good to be true -- but is. This isn't "oh-gosh, down-home" yokel stuff. This is Mark Twain savvy with lightning in his bat.

"I went to Game 4 of the playoffs between the Braves and the Giants,'' longtime Lee County coach Rob Williams said on Monday. "I went down to the bullpen, and I looked at him. I swear I saw those 10th-grade eyes of excitement, but I also saw that look that says I belong here. He belongs there.''

No one doubts that. Not now, not after Posey, who started the season in the minors, lifted the Giants on his young shoulders after arriving on May 29 with an unforgettable rookie run that now finds him hitting cleanup for the National League champs and drawing praise from everyone from Johnny Bench to his manager, Bruce Bochy, a former catcher, about how brilliantly the kid from Leesburg has handled one of the most difficult pitching staffs in baseball.

Posey, a former shortstop who didn't put on a catcher's mask until he was at Florida State, has been Bench-like behind the plate with a quick-like finesse that reminds many of Bench, who redefined the position.

"We've seen it, so we aren't surprised,'' Williams said. "Like that short-hop (catch he made). That's the shortstop in him. You listen to (TV playoffs announcer) Tim McCarver and those guys going on and on and getting all excited when he makes a play like that. But we've seen it all before.''

Buster does belong to Lee County.

"Of course, Lee County supports him. Why wouldn't you want to support him,'' said Brian Duncan, a Lee County resident. "I work at UPS with a lot of guys from Lee County, and they're all following Buster and we're all talking about Buster and the World Series. How cool would it be to bring the World Series back to Lee County?

"There's going to be a sign someday that says Lee County, home of Buster Posey,'' he said. "If you're from Lee County and you're not supporting Buster Posey, something is wrong with you.''

The feeling is much the same in Tallahassee, where Posey starred for FSU. But in Leesburg there is that added respect for what Posey represents.

"He's a hometown boy, a super kid and a role model,'' Hill said. "For any young man who wants to go that route, or any route, he's the one to look up to. He's an All-American boy. He's got it. He's just a super kid.''

And Lee's own.

"Buster being from here and doing what he has done this year makes us all feel good,'' said Chase Griffin, a senior on Lee County's baseball team. "Being from a small town and going from the minors to becoming the backbone of the Giants in one year. We all followed him this season. And now it's the World Series and a piece of it is us, here in Lee County.''

There's a constant buzz about Buster. Griffin said he was taking a test Monday when a teacher came in to talk to his teacher about possibly going to the Series, and Patrick said the talk at all the football games this season has been about two things: football and Buster.

"Everyone is talking about it,' Williams said. "Even my wife, Sharron, is excited about it. We were at a restaurant after church on Sunday and three or four different people we didn't even know came up to us to talk about Buster. All of Lee County is talking about it.''

Heldenberg said everyone he knows is talking about Buster.

"Just look on Facebook,'' he said. "Everyone I know with Facebook is talking about Buster on there.''

It's hard to imagine a sports fan in Lee who isn't a Giants fan these days.

"When the Giants were playing the Braves, it might have been half and half,'' said Nolan Spence, a longtime Lee County resident. "But now we're all Giants fans because of Buster. We want him to win the World Series and we want him to win the Rookie of the Year award. We're all pulling for Buster. We're all just waiting for Wednesday for the World Series to begin. Most of Lee County can't wait for Wednesday to get here.''

It has been a whirlwind ride for Posey and his hometown, and hundreds made the trip to Atlanta to see the Giants and Braves played this year, many carrying signs supporting Buster. But this is the Series, the bigger than life World Series.

"We're just all excited to have someone local in the World Series,'' Heldenberg said. "Do you know the odds of getting to the major leagues? The odds are insurmountable. And to do what he has done in his first year, going from the minors to batting cleanup for the National League champs. We are all just so proud of him.''