Thank you, Marty James, for the great tribute to Bill Buckner ("Warren Brusstar recalls Napa High and Chicago Cubs teammate Bill Buckner," June 1), and I fully agree with Warren Brusstar that Bill was the best athlete we ever saw.
As a 6th grader at West Park Elementary School, I loved to play tackle football with a group of older kids but broke my collar bone one day, leading to my mother not letting me play football when our 10th grade moved to Napa High in 1967.
After a lot of discussion, she did allow me to play my junior year. My first day of practice wearing pads, coach Keith Orr asked if anyone wanted to be a wide receiver. I was surprised that no one else stepped forward and when the coach said that I would have to beat "him" out, pointing to a player standing at the sidelines with the head coaches, I said thought 'Uh Oh, what did I get myself into?'
They positioned me at an imaginary scrimmage line in a three-point stance and told me the object was to roll the other guy over - turtle him. That other guy was Bill Buckner.
After I got "turtled," I immediately switched to defensive end.
Some weeks later, at a game at Ukiah, after I had dropped two pick-six interceptions in the JV game, I was on the sidelines watching the varsity game. They ran a sweep to the opposite side of the field and the running back, Ed St. John, looked like he was going to get tackled before he made it around end.
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I had focused my attention on Bill, who was a few yards up-field blocking. Ed broke a couple of tackles and started to turn the corner. Bill had relaxed his block, looking back at the runner, when he realized that he needed to re-engage his block. He turned resuming his current block and then drove that player into another player knocking both to the ground where he then ran a few yards downfield to engage a third opposing player.
As Ed was tackled, Bill started walking back to the Napa High huddle helping one of the two players he knocked down to get to his feet. As a high school junior, I was very impressed.
Bill had defined to me what it meant to be a competitive athlete. It was an ideal I carried through all aspects of my life.
Bill was so much more than a first baseman who booted a grounder in the World Series; he was a most gifted athlete and a mentor to many of us. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.