WASHINGTON — John Buck, for the second off-season in a row, made a move across the border as a Major League catcher.
After six seasons in Kansas City, he signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 2010 season.
Then, last November, the former Taylorsville High standout signed as a free agent with the Florida Marlins.
But Buck said it was another trip to several countries that was more significant. Earlier this year, prior to spring training, he was part of a delegation from the Marlins that visited American troops stationed in Germany, Bahrain and Southwest Asia.
"It was a life-changing experience," said Buck, sitting in the Florida clubhouse prior to last Saturday's game in Washington against the Nationals.
Buck said soon after he signed with Florida he got a call from David Samson, president of the Marlins, asking if he wanted to join former Marlins Andre Dawson, a Hall of Famer, Jeff Conine, current Marlin Logan Morrison and others for the overseas trip that lasted about 10 days. Buck said he was driving at the time and was excited about the possibility.
"Don't you want to ask your wife (Brooke) first?" said Samson, according to Buck.
Buck told Samson there was no need to do that since the Salt Lake City resident was sure he wanted to go. Since he has uncles who served in the military in Germany, Buck said visiting troops there was extra special. He also knows people who served LDS Church missions in Germany.
"I was driving in my car and I told David, absolutely. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Buck said. "Nobody gets a chance to go do that. It was something I had no hesitation doing. I was pumped up to go."
"It was really cool to see where my uncles were stationed and some of the things they did (in Germany). That part of it was pretty cool for me personally and also meeting the soldiers who were active or those were were injured at the hospital in Germany," he added. "For so many different levels it was gratifying to go there. Heck, all we did was show up and tell (the soldiers) we appreciated what they did. It has a pretty cool effect on me."
A right-handed hitting catcher, Buck is coming off the best season of his career. He hit a career-high .281 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs (also career bests) with the Blue Jays and was named to his first All-Star game. Buck, 30, finished tied for the Major League lead among catchers in home runs, and he was also stout behind the plate, throwing out 24 percent of runners trying to steal, second best among American League catchers.
So why did Toronto let Buck leave as a free agent?
"I had a good relationship with Alex Anthopoulos," Buck said of the Blue Jays general manager. "He is open and up front with players. I knew the situation. Financially, they were not able to keep me. Obviously, they had (24-year-old catcher) J.P. Arcencibia and he is very capable. Alex made it very clear he wanted me back. It is just part of the game. Personally, I feel they made a good decision. J.P. will be there for awhile and will be cheaper."
The 6-foot-3 Buck is signed through the 2013 season with the Marlins. Now with his third team in three years, does Buck feel unsettled?
"I am settled now," said Buck, with a smile.
Buck made a good impression on Marlins fans when he hit a grand slam in his first at-bat with the team. He was the second player in team history to do that and the fourth to hit a slam on Opening Day — all at home. "That was an upbeat welcome a little bit," the soft-spoken Buck said of his slam.
Thus far in 2011, Buck is hitting .226 with five home runs. He's also knocked in 19 runs, third best on the team.Comment on this story
New to the National League, Buck works closely with Florida pitching coach Randy St. Claire. "We are a lot alike. You can tell he cares," Buck said. "I am trying to get the most of out of my pitching staff. I am my biggest critic. I am hard on myself."
Buck, who won a state title at Taylorsville High, was drafted by Houston in the seventh round in 1998 and began his pro career in the Gulf Coast League. He was traded to the Royals in June 2004.
The Marlins began the season 23-16 and Buck said the goal is clear: the playoffs. On top of that the Marlins will open a new stadium in the little Havana section of Miami next year. "We have a lot of expectations on a lot of levels," Buck said.
David Driver is a freelance writer and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com