San Francisco Giants' star catcher Buster Posey reacts with his family -- wife, Kristen; son, Lee, and daughter, Addison -- during a live nationally televised announcement naming him the NL MVP Thursday at the Transitional Learning Center in Leesburg. (Nov. 15, 2012)
LEESBURG — With his arms wrapped tightly around his wife and two children — and with what felt like the entire city of Leesburg anxiously standing behind him in the backdrop — Buster Posey experienced one of the greatest moments of his life and professional baseball career Thursday night right there at the epicenter of where it all began.
And he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“There’s a lot of emotions right now,” Posey said Thursday night at the Lee County Transitional Learning Center — where his mom, Traci, is a teacher — moments after it was announced live on national television that he’d won Major League Baseball’s coveted Most Valuable Player award for the National League. “First of all, I’m just very happy. Happy to be here at home, to be able to share this with family and friends. And I’m happy for the city of San Francisco. We’ve got such great fans and it’s just something else for them to celebrate.”
Posey then paused, rubbed the side of his cheek and took a deep breath before looking around the room at all those who came out to support him Thursday.
Then he added with a smile: “It’s just hard to put into words right now.”
With 27 of the 32 possible first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Posey, 25, won the most prized individual award in baseball just a month removed from his second World Series ring in three years. He also became just the fifth catcher in history to be named the NL MVP and the first since Hall of Famer Johnny Bench won it with the Cincinnati Reds in 1972.
But unlike the World Series title — which the Giants won by sweeping the Tigers in Detroit — this was an honor he got to share with his hometown.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Leesburg resident Ben Lowe, who works at the Learning Center with Posey’s mother and was a football coach at Lee County High School when Posey was there playing baseball. “Even looking at him now (up there on national TV doing interviews), he’s still the same guy — humble, soft-spoken, leads by example. It’s so refreshing to see someone again after all these years — knowing all he’s gone on to accomplish — and see him come back and not change at all.”
It was especially amazing to Lowe’s nephew Brooks, who begged his uncle for weeks to take him to Thursday’s charity fundraiser for the Learning Center when he heard Posey would be the guest speaker.
“Brooks called me up and said, ‘The only thing in this world that I want for Christmas — and I mean the only thing I want — is something signed by Buster Posey,’ ” Lowe said. “Like I said, we wouldn’t have missed this for the world. He’s a hero to everyone around here.”
But likely none more so than to Posey’s 15-month old twins, Lee and Addison, who squirmed, squealed and never stopped smiling as they joined Posey during his MLB Network interview after the award was announced. Standing right by his side was, of course, his high school sweetheart and wife of four years, Kristen, who seemed more choked up by — and proud of — the moment than anyone else in the room.
As soon as Posey’s name was revealed as the winner, Kristen Posey’s eyes lit up and she immediately planted a congratulatory kiss on her man.
“This one’s up there,” she said when asked where this honor ranks among all the ones she’s watched her husband win over the years, including the Golden Spikes while at FSU, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, two World Series rings, the Comeback Player of the Year and the Silver Slugger Award. “It’s so exciting. It’s a huge accomplishment. He worked so hard to get back, and honestly this was something we never even thought about. The entire goal (this offseason) was just to focus on our kids and get healthy.”
Posey missed most of his sophomore season in 2011 after suffering a broken leg and three torn tendons in his ankle following a home-plate collision against the Florida Marlins in May. He said Thursday he had no clue if he could return to form in 2012, and he certainly wasn’t thinking about winning the MVP.
“This was definitely not one of my goals,” said Buster, who batted an NL-best .336, hit 24 homers and drove in 103 runs this season, while also calling starting pitcher Matt Cain’s perfect game against the Houston Astros in June. “The main goal was to get back on the field and enjoy the game again. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it before or anything, I just had a deeper appreciation once I got hurt and was away from it and had to try to come back. You just realize how lucky you are, and that’s what drove me.”
The timing of Posey’s appearance at the Learning Center on the same night as the award was being announced was “pure coincidence,” he said. But wanting to keep his word to his mother above all else, he worked out the logistics with Major League Baseball to do both.
“It actually worked out really well,” he said. “And I haven’t seen the video yet, but I’m sure it’s going to be a great shot of all our friends and family in the background celebrating. Really ... it worked out perfect.”
“Perfect” was the same word many of his young fans used to described him Thursday as they watched the moment unfold. One of those was 9-year-old Trent Johnson of Leesburg, who wore his No. 28 Posey jersey to the event.
“He’s my favorite player, always has been,” Trent said as his buddies, Chase Sommers and Flint Davis, both 10, nodded in agreement. “He always strives (to be the best). That’s what we like most about him.”
Traci Posey likes that, too. Between organizing and running the event with the help of Buster’s father, Demp — who cooked a barbecue feast for all those in attendance — Traci was finally able to reflect on what the moment meant just after the raffle for Posey memorabilia ended and just before Buster was set to speak to a packed gymnasium, which gave him a standing ovation as he stepped to the mic.
“I’ve always been proud of him, and right now I couldn’t be more proud. Obviously, as his mom, I think he’s deserving,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just a really special moment, and it means so much to me — and everyone else — that he’s here sharing it with us.”