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The ballplayer


March 16, 2001|By CHRIS GRANT, Sports Editor

I sometimes think I get a bit too sentimental in this column. I know I often talk too much about things since past and the what not. If you agree with me, you might as well stop reading now.

For those of you who have continued, I will tell you a story. It is a story of a friend. It is a story of a ballplayer.

When I first met my friend Buster he was a small dog, hardly bigger than his head is now. He was locked in a cage in a pet store somewhere in Roseburg, Ore. I remember it was raining that day. I remember he cried when he left his sister. I remember how happy I was when we took him home.

Upon arrival at the Grant house on 219 Corona Loop Road, it quickly became apparent that the family's newest addition was quite an athlete. He played tug of war with a tenacity unmatched and he loved to show off his running and jumping ability by bounding around the house.


He used to sleep under my parents' desk. I doubt his head would fit under there anymore, but I can still picture his small body under that desk, waiting for someone to call him to play.

I quickly came upon Buster's other talent less than six months after we got him. I decided I wanted to teach him to play ball and so, after purchasing some tennis balls at Fred Meyer, I went home and set about my task of turning Buster into the best ballplayer in the land.

Now my friend David Bowker had a couple of dogs who he called Allan and Lou, after Trammell and Whitaker, the Detroit Tiger infielders who were the best double play combination of their time. I'm not sure why David Bowker called those dogs that as I never saw the canines turn any double plays. However, they were quite adept at running down ground balls and it was with this in mind that I set out to train Buster.

I, however, had different plans for my new friend. He wouldn't be some sort of infielder. No, I envisioned him patrolling right field at Fenway Park, much like Dwight Evans (and certainly nothing like Manny Ramirez).

So I went to work. We started with the short pitch and catch and once he had mastered this I moved further and further back until I was standing on one side of the yard throwing the ball all the way across. Buster would make those plays, every last one.

It wasn't as easy as this makes it sound. It took weeks for Buster to perfect his craft, but once he had it down I would defy you to find a dog better at catching a ball.

And once it became obvious that he had mastered the art of catching the ball, Buster embarked on a long and illustrious career of doing just that.

He certainly was not an athlete like those we see today. No, he was a throwback. He played with bleeding feet, he played with a bruised head. Just like Dwight Evans, he feared no wall, just so long as he made the play. Some might surmise Buster was just a dog and that he didn't know better than to run into a wall or a brick planter to make a catch, but I'd tell them they were wrong. He made those plays because that's the way the game is played and for no other reason. It was always obvious to me that he was either going to play hard or he was not going to play at all.

If you don't believe me, then I will offer you the example of the swimming pool. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get that dog to jump into the pool, even when there was a ball to catch. And if that doesn't show his intelligence, then I don't know what does.

As he got older Buster began to try other sports. He played a bit of football, usually at the wide receiver position, and he tried his hand at basketball, but things never worked that well there. The one thing you could say for him was he was always was willing to try. If there was a ball to catch, he was the dog to make that catch.

Buster's career continued for many years, but old age began to set in and eventually his storied athletic life came to a close.

Just like most athletes, health issues have stopped him from playing the game he loves. The old ballplayer has suffered a few seizures in the past few months and they have left him in a state that my mother understatedly calls not so good.

It was with a heavy heart that I paid a visit to my old friend a week ago, perhaps to say a last goodbye, but certainly to say another hello. I found him outside, lying next to one of his beloved balls. When he stood he certainly seemed groggy, but when I picked up that yellow sphere I could see that old gleam return to his eye. I knew I shouldn't throw the ball, but I also knew that he wanted me to.

And after taking a few steps back I tossed it softly up in the air, much as I had done when he'd first learned the game. I watched as the ball curved upward and then fell back toward him. I watched his face, transfixed the entire time and I was not surprised when he jumped from where he stood and caught the ball.

For that was exactly what a ballplayer would do.

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