John Buck is the last member of a generation.
The veteran catcher is playing for the hometown Salt Lake Bees in Triple-A baseball, hoping to return to the major leagues at age 34. In 2005, the Taylorsville product was among a record eight former Utah high school players in the big leagues — reflecting a golden era of the sport in the state in the mid-1990s. He was the last one left from that group as of mid-July, before the Seattle Mariners released him.
Utah high school products in the major leagues in 2005:
Player, pos. School Team
John Buck, C Taylorsville Kansas City
Brandon Duckworth, P Kearns Houston
Scott Eyre, P Cyprus San Francisco
Mike Gosling, P East Arizona
Ryan Jensen, P Cottonwood Kansas City
Brandon Lyon, P Taylorsville Arizona
Chris Shelton, 1B Cottonwood Detroit
Zach Sorensen, 2B Highland L.A. Angels
Buck accepted a minor-league contract offer from the Los Angeles Angels. He figured that if he had to play at this level again after 11 seasons in the majors, he may as well do so at home — and with an organization that may need a third catcher in September during the AL West pennant race.
Never mind the Bees’ recent 420-mile bus ride to Las Vegas, an experience that "rattles the reality," Buck said good-naturedly.
"If I didn’t want to be in the big leagues, I wouldn’t still be doing this," said Buck, now a Bluffdale resident. "That’s obviously the goal."
Beyond Buck, Utah’s next big-league hope is likely Spanish Fork’s Tyson Brummett, 29, now pitching for Double-A Chattanooga in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization.
When the Mariners released him, the club planted suggestions that Buck had lost something defensively, which was always his strong suit. He figures that was merely an excuse for the move. In any case, his purpose with the Bees is to "show that I’m fully well and capable," and he’s doing so.
Through 12 games as a designated hitter, catcher and first baseman, Buck is batting .298.
Having made the AL All-Star team in 2010, when he batted .281 with 20 home runs for Toronto, Buck would make anyone’s list of the top five Utahns in pro baseball history. He has enjoyed quite a big-league odyssey since breaking in with Kansas City in 2004, having also played for Toronto, Miami, the New York Mets, Pittsburgh and Seattle. If he makes the Angels’ roster at some point, that will become his sixth team in five seasons and his fourth team in two years.
Catchers are always in demand, partly explaining his travels. Signing with the Mets in 2013 gave him an everyday playing opportunity, then being traded to Pittsburgh enabled him to experience the playoffs for the first time.
He may get another September opportunity with the Angels. For now, a player who’s always been known as a good clubhouse influence is maintaining a good attitude in the minors.
"It’s baseball," he said recently at Smith’s Ballpark. "It’s never that bad if you’re in a uniform, you know?"
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