Standing next to the caption, “Time To Bust A Move,” is Leesburg’s own Buster Posey, who made his solo cover debut recently for arguably the most respected sports magazine in the world, Sports Illustrated. Posey was featured by renowned SI sports writer Tom Verducci, who traveled to Leesburg and spent time with Posey and his family as he tried to unearth more about the story behind one of Major League Baseball’s most unique and talented young stars.
ALBANY — Go ahead and try to find the July 22, 2013, edition of Sports Illustrated on a shelf in any book store, grocery store or magazine rack around Southwest Georgia.
“We couldn’t keep this one in stock,” Diane Stone, manager of Books-A-Million at the Albany Mall, said Monday afternoon. “We got it in last Tuesday, and by the first day they were all gone. In fact, I’ve had five gentlemen already come in today and ask me if we had any copies. It was a popular, popular issue to say the least.”
Especially around the stomping ground of this month’s cover boy Buster Posey.
The 26-year-old Leesburg native and San Francisco Giants MVP catcher has been a household name since leading the franchise to its first World Series title in 2010 as a rookie out of Florida State, followed by a second championship in three years in 2012. Now, he’s gracing his first solo cover of the bible of all sports magazines.
And Posey, for one, couldn’t be happier with how his first big-time spread turned out.
“It’s pretty surreal to see yourself on the cover of any magazine, especially Sports Illustrated,” Posey told The Herald shortly after the special edition — the magazine’s 2013 MLB “(Re) Preview” that looks ahead to the second half of the season — was published. “I thought the article turned out great.”
Posey’s been on the cover of the magazine before, but it was with teammates when the Giants won their World Series titles. And while he’s also been featured alone on the front of ESPN The Magazine, as well as inside GQ Magazine recently, this one was different.
“I loved reading that. It bothers me sometimes you will have an athlete go on and have success in the pros and they forget how much Florida State did for them. They did a lot for Florida State during their time, yes, but the way this university and its coaches prepare you for life is invaluable, and many don’t recognize that. But Buster? He always has (remembered what FSU did for him). He has never forgotten the way it shaped him into the person and the player he is today, and there isn’t an interview he’ll give where — when he’s asked about Florida State — he won’t say how much he enjoyed his years here, or how proud he is of his alma mater or how that old man coach Mike Martin turned him into a catcher. And here’s something not a lot of people know: He gives more money back to this baseball program than anyone ever has in my 30-plus years here. I hope I get to coach his son one day.”
--- Mike Martin,
long-time legendary Florida State baseball coach after reading why former star player Buster Posey chose to keep his commitment to Florida State, rather than sign out of high school when he was drafted
And those who watched him become the person and player he is today have never been prouder.
“The first thing I thought when I saw it was, ‘There’s a guy that no matter how much attention he gets, he’s always going to be Buster,’ ” legendary FSU head baseball coach Mike Martin, who coached Posey for three seasons and is credited with turning his one-time star position player/pitcher into the MLB All-Star catcher he is today, said in a telephone interview with The Herald on Tuesday. “He’s not going to let any outside people or forces distract him or change him. He is his own man, and you can tell from the story that he didn’t try to be somebody that he wasn’t.”
The article, which was written by renowned SI scribe Tom Verducci — arguably one of greatest sports writers of journalism’s modern era — is entitled, “Country and Western,” and takes readers on a one-of-a-kind journey into Posey’s world, including looking back on his days as a young baseball player in Lee County.
“I’m glad they included some of the pictures from when I was younger,” Posey said.
The piece stretches six pages and begins with Verducci likening Posey to one of Major League’s Baseball’s last Renaissance men — a kind of player near extinction, but one who’s incredibly refreshing when he does come around every once in a blue moon.
“The names of Frank Merriwell, Jack Armstrong and Chip Hilton mean nothing to a young sports fan today,” writes Verducci. “The archetype of the clean-cut fictional athlete has disappeared, along with the attendant genre of American literature, radio and film that once flourished in the 20th century. So when Posey comes along, like something out of antiquity, the genuine earnestness of the guy becomes striking. It’s as if we have entered the Great Recession of humility when we encounter a hunk of it.”
Those were words that struck a chord with Posey’s former high school coach at Lee County, Rob Williams.
“It was so true what (Verducci) said — Buster is very different in that he really is a throwback player. Always has been,” said Williams, who was not immune to the troubles area folks have had finding a copy of the magazine to read, and — after being unable to locate one anywhere — Williams had to borrow the issue from his chiropractor’s office nearly a week after it came out.
Williams continued: “His presence is just so commanding. It was like that here at Lee County — he was our leader as a 10th-grader — and it was like that at Florida State; he was their leader as a freshman. I’m not sure I’ve ever known anyone as unique as Buster, and I think anyone who knows him or reads that story and gets to know him through that will understand what I mean by that.”
Posey’s teammate, pitcher Barry Zito, certainly does.
Zito says that while as simple as Posey appears on the surface, understanding what makes him seem bigger-than-life is far more complex — but he gets it and wishes more people did, too.
“Buster has the ability to understand what’s truly important, and he’s always had it,” Zito told SI. “Gratitude is an amazingly valuable quality. The opposite is entitlement, and it can become very common with young players. But once you think this game owes you anything, it will kick your (butt) in two seconds. Buster has too much gratitude to think like that.”
Williams said upon reading Zito’s take on his former star, he likes to think he has an anecdote about Posey as an up-and-coming player that exemplifies Zito’s point.
“Here he was, the best player on our team and the best player in the state his senior year, and he never missed a day of field maintenance that all players had to do to be a part of our team. In fact, he’d likely be the first there and last to leave,” Williams recalled. “And when other players saw him out there with his rake, working hard ... I mean, you’re just drawn to a guy like that. You’ll follow anything he does.
“You see it so much in the pros, and even in college more and more these days, but it seems like a lot of times the star athlete thinks it’s always about him and not the team. But the reality is, a real star is only happy when the team succeeds, whether he’s a part of it that night or not. Buster is the kind of guy — when he played for me, or FSU or even now with the Giants — who was happy if he went 0-for-4 in a game, but we won. But if he went 4-for-4 and we lost? He was always really, really disappointed.”
Verducci catches the reader up on Posey’s meteoric rise to the top — two World Series rings, an NL MVP, NL Rookie of the Year and batting title, all in just three years — and is sure to remind anyone not aware what an anomaly Posey truly is.
“ ... He is among the most indispensable players in baseball, which explains why in March, San Francisco signed him to a groundbreaking nine-year extension worth $167 million. It is the longest contract ever given to a catcher and the most money ever given to a player with three or less years of service time,” he writes.
Verducci also takes a detailed look back on Posey’s childhood — the picturesque farmhouse on acres of land where he grew up that was tucked away in the Georgia pines down Turkey Farm Road in Leesburg; the homemade baseball field in their backyard that Posey and his two brothers, Jack and Jess, and sister, Sam, would spend countless hours playing on; and how he met his future wife Kristen, a fellow Lee County native, while taking the SAT test in high school.
But maybe the most interesting tidbit to come out of the walk down memory lane was how Posey came to end up at Florida State, despite being drafted out of high school. For Posey, it was simple: Even if everyone else thought he was ready to jump right to the pros, he wasn’t — for a variety of reasons you don’t often see an 18-year-old contemplate.
“I wouldn’t have been ready. I don’t see how kids do it. I really don’t,” said Posey, who was originally selected in the 50th round of the 2005 draft by the Angels before later being taken No. 5 overall in 2008 by the Giants. “You’re still a kid. You’re still under your parents’ roof and then — bam! — you’re an adult. At least with college, there’s a transition period.”
And according to Martin, Posey’s decision to honor his commitment to Florida State was one of the best things to ever happen to the university.
“I loved reading that. It bothers me sometimes you will have an athlete go on and have success in the pros and they forget how much Florida State did for them. They did a lot for Florida State during their time, yes, but the way this university and its coaches prepare you for life is invaluable, and many don’t recognize that. But Buster? He always (remembered what FSU did for him),” Martin said. “He has never forgotten the way it shaped him into the person and player he is today, and there isn’t an interview he’ll give where — when he’s asked about Florida State — he won’t say how much he enjoyed his years here, or how proud he is of his alma mater or how that old man coach Mike Martin turned him into a catcher.
“And here’s something not a lot of people know: He gives more money back to this baseball program than anyone ever has in my 30-plus years here. I hope I get to coach his son one day.”
The remainder of the piece is more of a present-day look at Posey’s career and return to form from a serious injury in 2011. It also examines his impact on the San Francisco organization and community and features glowing comments from the front office on how he’s become the single most important player to the franchise.
After a passage about how fans flooded the front office with get-well cards and flowers following Posey’s season-ending leg injury during his sophomore season, Giants CEO and Chairman Larry Baer summed up Posey like this “The perfect metaphor was when he won the MVP last year,” Baer tells the magazine. “He was at the learning center where his mother teaches, for a $10-a-plate fund-raising dinner. The guy just won the MVP! The easiest way to think about what he means to us is to take him (out of the lineup). You unplug him, as you saw in 2011, and we’re just different.”
Glossing over just a few of the countless details in Sports Illustrated’s article on Posey doesn’t do the six-page piece justice, and it’s easy to see why it was so hard to find a copy of the magazine around Posey’s homefront in the days after it came out. Martin said he plans to bring that up and razz his former star a bit when they see each other this weekend. The Tampa Bay Rays are hosting “FSU Day” on Sunday when the Giants close out their three-game series, and Martin is throwing out the first pitch before the game.
“My grandkids love him, and my youngest grandson wears (Buster’s) No. 28 jersey, and he can tell you anything you want to know about Buster. We’re all very excited about this weekend,” Martin said. “They act like he’s a superhero. And that’s exactly what he is.”