Leesburg native and San Francisco Giants star catcher Buster Posey, left, signs autographs for Albany’s Tom and Dana Polk during Thursday’s fundraising event at the Lee County Transitional Learning Center. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
LEESBURG — As Buster Posey drove to the Lee County Transitional Learning Center on Thursday for the 4th annual “Steak” a Claim in Education event, the Leesburg native and San Francisco Giants star catcher couldn’t help but think back to last year.
“I did make me reminisce,” Posey said. “Driving here (took me back).”
It was a drive that brought back the memories of last year’s similar fundraiser, where Posey learned of his 2012 NL MVP award in front of friends, family and devoted fans.
Posey’s remarkable rise to fame since graduating from Lee County in 2005 has taken the catcher on a ride to the top of the sporting world — but it’s a ride that always takes a detour back to Lee County in late November for an event that has turned into something special for the both Posey and his hometown.
Even without an MVP ceremony awaiting him on Thursday, there was something special about stepping on to Lee County Middle School’s west campus and seeing the faces of hundreds of familiar supporters.
“This is a special place to me,” he said. “It’s neat to see the way people react here, compared to San Francisco. People are excited here, but at the same time they are like, ‘You have been here. We knew you before you played baseball.’ ”
Plenty of lifelong Posey fans showed up for the fundraiser, which annually raises up to $27,000 with all proceeds going to the TLC. Funds were raised through general admission, a pre-event autograph session with Posey, and a silent auction that featured gift certificates from businesses from Lee and surrounding counties and autographed memorabilia from several professional athletes, including Posey, former Braves pitchers Greg Maddox and John Smoltz, PGA golfer Jason Dufner and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“You see the turnouts we have had in the past, and it’s getting better and better,” Posey said about the event. “TLC puts so much effort into coordinating and getting this event going. I just think it goes a long way and does a lot of good for the school.”
Traci Posey, Buster’s mom, is a science teacher at the school, and Tim Mears, director of the center, said Buster has always jumped at the opportunity to help his hometown.
“He is glad to do this and never blinks when his mom asks him to come,” Mears said. “He is the perfect role model. He is just a good guy that the kids can relate to. Everything that he has accomplished hasn’t really changed him. He is still Buster. He’s still the same ol’ guy.”
It’s why the fans flock to the event each year and why Albany native Tom Polk returned for a third straight year Thursday, this time with his entire family.
“He doesn’t have to win the MVP. He doesn’t have to win the World Series. We will still be here,” Polk said. “I can’t think of a better role model in sports. I was going to say just baseball, but I can’t think of a better one in all sports.”
Posey has been in the majors just four years, but he’s already collected two World Series rings, a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP award. The nine-year, $167 million contract he signed in March solidified his spot as the cornerstone of the Giants franchise, which is looking to bounce back from a 76-86 record last year — the team’s worst season since 2008, the year before Posey joined the team.
Posey said the recent addition of former Braves pitcher Tim Hudson to the Giants’ rotation should help the team contend for an NL West title next season.
“So far we have (Matt) Cain, (Madison) Bumgarner, (Tim) Lincecum and Hudson, and those are four really solid pitchers,” Posey said. “It’s not four guys I know I would want to face going into a series. We should have a lot of good things going next year. It’s just a matter of going out and executing on the field.”