It is a job for the catcher to try and make everyone on the staff be as consistent as possible and get as much out of them, in a nutshell, through the ups and downs. —John Buck, New York Mets
WASHINGTON — John Buck is a nurturer. He is a prodder. And he is a cheerleader.
Buck, you see, is a Major League Baseball catcher who tries to get the best out of his staff, be it a grizzled veteran or young pitcher in his first year.
Now in his 10th season as a backstop in the bigs, the Taylorsville High graduate is the everyday catcher for the New York Mets.
“It is a job for the catcher to try and make everyone on the staff be as consistent as possible and get as much out of them, in a nutshell, through the ups and downs,” said Buck, 32, standing by his locker prior to Wednesday's game in Washington against the Nationals.
Buck was traded to Toronto after the 2012 season but before he even had a chance to suit up again for the Blue Jays he was dealt to the Mets along with Travis d’Arnaud and two other players in a deal that sent All-Star pitcher R.A. Dickey to Toronto.
Mets manager Terry Collins was asked if he is concerned about the workload of Buck back of the plate so far this season.
“I am not worried about it yet. Down the road I may be,” Collins said.
“Everyone is always different,” Buck said of Collins. “He is definitely one of those guys that has an open-door policy. Some guys say that and it is lip service. For him it is sincere.”
A right-handed hitter, Buck was hitting .217 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs prior to Wednesday’s game in Washington against the Nationals.
After a hot start, in which he hit five homers in the first nine games with 15 RBIs, Buck hit just .176 in the previous 30 days through June 3. He entered June 4 with the most RBIs of any big-league catcher and was among the leaders in homers at that position. “I am getting more walks, but the name of the game is driving in runs,” he said.
But it is his work behind the plate that carries weight with the Mets.
In the sixth inning of a game at Nationals Park on June 4, Buck had to do all that he could to try and get starting pitcher Jeremy Hefner through a key inning.
Buck went to the mound to visit Hefner after Washington right-fielder Jayson Werth hit a long foul ball down the left-field line.
On the next pitch, Werth hit a single to center. Later in the inning, Buck pumped his fist at his pitcher after Hefner struck out Washington All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Buck then patted Hefner on the back during a trip to the mound with Adam LaRoche at the plate.
Hefner, who pitched at Oral Roberts in Oklahoma, was able to get out of the inning without allowing a run after two singles to start the frame. Hefner allowed just one run in seven innings, but he did not get the win when the Nationals scored two runs in the last of the ninth for a 3-2 win.
“I have to go through all of those innings with them,” Buck said. “You have to be stable and constant back of the plate and make sure they stay consistent.”
This season, one of the pitchers out of the bullpen for the Mets is Brandon Lyon, a former teammate of Buck at Taylorsville High. Lyon pitched for Toronto last year, and this is the first time they have been teammates in the majors.
“It has been a lot of fun. When I heard he might be signing with us, I called him up and tried to make it sound more attractive,” Buck said with a laugh. “He has kind of thrown in every role. You know what you are going to get out of Brandon. He is a guy that Terry is not afraid to use at any time.”
Buck is signed through this season, and many feel youngster d’Arnaud is the catcher of the future for New York. D’Arnaud is now on the disabled list at Triple-A Las Vegas while Buck is a free agent after the season.
“I knew Travis from Toronto. It is my team here. I need to be the best catcher I can be, not just for myself but for the team,” Buck said. “I need to do my job and do the best that I can. If I can take care of business, it is good for me, good for the Mets and good for Travis and all three parties.”
Buck was drafted by Houston in the seventh round in 1998 and eventually made his Major League debut with Kansas City in 2004.
He played with the Royals through 2009, then was an All-Star for the first time with Toronto the next season as he hit a career-high 20 homers. Buck then played for the Marlins in 2011 and 2012 and last season hit just .192 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 106 games.
David Driver is a freelance writer and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com