Taylorsville baseball pals reunited on Mets, flourishing again
New York • Neither John Buck nor Brandon "Boo" Lyon can remember who brought it up first back in their Taylorsville neighborhood in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but both vividly recall the topic being discussed.
Wouldn't it be great, the lifelong pals imagined from their sleeping bags in their parents' backyards as 9-, 10- and 11-year-old Little Leaguers, if someday they could both not only play professional baseball, but do it on the same team?
"We would have sleepovers when we were little, and we would talk about it," Buck said. "That's literally all we would talk about making the big leagues, playing together. To have it come true, that just doesn't happen, but somehow it happened to us."
A catcher, Buck, 32, is in his 10th major league season. A relief pitcher, Lyon, 33, is in his 12th. The former Taylorsville High teammates' magical moment came last week.
In the New York Mets' 11-2 win over San Diego on April 1, Lyon entered the game in the seventh inning in relief of Jonathan Niese. The first batter he faced reached on an error and the second guy grounded out to end the inning, all with Buck calling pitches behind home plate at Citi Field.
"Talk about a cool moment," Lyon said. "That's got to be pretty rare best friends growing up, now in the same battery in the big leagues, in the Big Apple. I can't tell you how great it has been to be in the same clubhouse with John. Just a dream come true."
Although Lyon has played for six different teams since being picked by Toronto in the 14th round of the 1999 draft and Buck has played for four teams after he went to Houston in the seventh round of the 1998 draft, the players always figured there was no way they would be reunited after last playing together on Taylorsville's 1997 team Lyon was a senior, Buck a junior that was eliminated by Jordan early in the 5A baseball playoffs. The twosome led T-ville to the title in 1996; in 1998, Buck helped the Warriors win the 5A championship after Lyon had moved on to Dixie State College.
This past offseason, however, the pieces fell into place. Buck played for the Marlins the past two seasons, then was shipped to Toronto as the Marlins dumped veteran players and big salaries in the latest Miami fire sale. He was then part of the mega-trade when Toronto acquired Mets ace R.A. Dickey in November in exchange for Buck and a couple young prospects, including fast-rising catcher Travis d'Arnaud.
Lyon pitched for Houston and Toronto last season, posting a 3.10 earned run average in 67 relief appearances. He became a free agent in the offseason, and signed with the Mets in February partly, he said, so he could play with Buck.
"There were some opportunities before when we thought it might happen, but didn't work out," Lyon said. "This time, when it was presented to me, and the opportunity was there to do it, I jumped at it and said, 'Hey, let's do this.' It's a good feeling to be on the same team."
Buck said he started getting text messages and emails from mutual friends back in Utah about the possibility of Lyon joining the Mets, so he gave his childhood friend a call.
"He goes, 'Well, it would be fun to play with you.' And I was like, 'Dude, let's do it. This might be our only chance,'Â " Buck said. "He goes, 'Yeah, but it is New York. Us being Utah boys, it is a little different than where we are from.' I was like, 'Dude, we can live by each other. Our kids can play together, like we did. It will be fun.' "
So Lyon signed a one-year deal that pays him a base salary of $750,000 with the chance to earn up to $2.3 million in incentives. Buck is scheduled to make $6 million in the final year of the three-year contract he signed with the Marlins.
"It is kind of cool to have one-sixth of my Little League team [which won the AAU national championship for 12-year-olds] here in New York," Lyon said. "We had 12 of us that we basically grew up together in baseball with, and did everything together. We still keep in touch with a lot of those guys we played with. In a way, they are part of this, too."
Utahns in the Big Apple
Buck married his high school sweetheart, the former Brooke Noble, who was also a standout athlete at Taylorsville. Their twin sons Cooper and Brody were born 12 weeks premature in Kansas City in 2008 but are now doing well, Buck said.
Lyon met his wife, Sara, at Dixie State College, and they two sons and a daughter.
When it came time to choose a place to live, the teammates decided they wanted to live in bustling Manhattan. They reside within a few minutes' cab ride of each other on Manhattan's upper east side, near Central Park, where there is plenty of green space to teach their kids the game.
"I looked at other places, but it seemed like the right thing to do," Lyon said. "I don't know how long I am going to be here, so I said, 'Let's experience New York when we can let's do it right.' "
They've embraced it, too. Buck had his catcher's mask professionally painted to feature a Big Apple, the 9/11 memorial, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan Skyline.
"It has been fun," Buck said, "Growing up, playing on a big stage like New York is kind of what you dream about. And to be able to do it with Brandon here, it is pretty fun."
Don't look now, but the defensive-minded catcher and masterful game-caller who was supposed to manage the Mets' abundance of young arms and just be a stop-gap offensively until d'Arnaud is ready to be the Mets' everyday catcher is leading the National League in RBIs, with 15. He has already homered five times.
Buck's offensive production dipped drastically in Miami he hit just .192 last season after he made the All-Star team in 2010 with the Blue Jays and hit 20 homers with a .281 average.
He has rediscovered his swing in New York, and is a big reason the Mets have started 5-4.
"It feels good," Buck said moments after homering April 3 in the Mets' 8-4 win over the Padres. "If I was going to write it up, this is the way I would do it. I am not trying to do too much, just staying relaxed and not trying to force the issue."
Through Wednesday, Buck was hitting .375.
Lyon is also flourishing on the big stage, in limited opportunities. Through Wednesday, he had yet to allow an earned run in four appearances and 3.1 innings of work.
"Coming into spring, this was the best I have felt in three years or so," said Lyon, who had season-ending surgery on his right biceps and shoulder in June of 2011. "Being able to have a full offseason to train, and getting my arm caught up, has been really good. I feel really healthy right now."
Ties to Utah still strong
Lyon has a home in St. George and still lives there in the offseason, while Buck has homes in Miami and Bluffdale and splits his offseason time between Florida and Utah.
Both players said growing up in baseball-crazy Taylorsville started them on the path to lengthy professional baseball careers. They credited their high school coach, Steve Cramblitt, for nurturing that desire to become a big-leaguer, and Lyon said that Mike Littlewood, who was his pitching coach at Dixie State and is now the head baseball coach at BYU, was also influential in his development.
"Obviously, Steve Cramblitt had a huge, huge impact on both of us," Buck said. "Not just teaching us how to play baseball, but how to prepare mentally and physically, how to play the game at a higher level. We are still very fortunate, even to this day, to have been coached by him. Even now, it pays off, some of the stuff he taught us."
And they get to play together again, which may be the biggest reward of all.
Buddies for life
John Buck in 2013 (through April 10 games)
AB Runs Hits RBIs BB SO Avg.
32 7 12 15 1 5 .375
Brandon Lyon in 2013 (through April 10 games)
W L ERA SV IP H ER BB SO
1 0 0.00 0 3.1 1 0 0 4