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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bloomington Man is Married to Wapella Woman. Meets Bill Buckner. Sort of Looks Like Billy Jack

I lift this pleasant article by Bill Flick about Jamie Defenbaugh, who kind of looks like Billy Jack. Jamie is married to Jackie Toohill, WHS '86. From the Pantagraph

As a 12-year-old back in Little League, at the launch of a life that would evolve into an endearing, enduring devotion to the Chicago Cubs, Jamie Deffenbaugh had a favorite player, an idol, one of those summertime heroes you follow in the papers, on TV and up in your room in the calm of a July night, listening to the grainy A.M. din of the game on the radio.

He was Bill Buckner.

Jamie wore the same number — 22.

He was left-handed and played first base, just as Buckner did.

An idol of his mom’s as well (“But I think she liked him for his looks”), he memorized Buckner’s statistics, tried to emulate his playing style (“tough, gritty, hard-nosed”) and got to know him so well, he learned even his idiosyncrasies — down to the black, high-top baseball shoes Buckner wore when few other players did.

“I idolized the guy,” says Jamie.

Which brings us to the other day, 30 years later.

Bill Buckner got into Jamie’s van. On purpose, even.

Then he actually sat there, in the passenger seat, for three hours, right where other mere mortals usually sit.

Asked if he’d mind doing a favor before last weekend’s “State Farm Legends” game at the Corn Crib, Deffenbaugh drove Buckner down from O’Hare International, fetching him there so the retired star could play here.

At one point, Buckner needed to use the restroom, says Jamie.

Idols apparently even need to do that.

Another time, Buckner said he was a bit hungry and they pulled off at a diner where Buckner wolfed down a feta and spinach omelet, hash browns and blueberry pancakes, and Jamie picked up the tab.

In life, there are those big moments — graduations, marriage, buying a home, parenting your children — and at age 42, Jamie has experienced them all, plus one.

He drove 135 miles with his childhood idol.

For days, Jamie had been a bit nervous before heading to Chicago. “He was beside himself,” chuckled Jackie, Jamie’s wife.

Then came the actual day.

Arriving early and, like a pilot, he circled O’Hare rather than parking and sitting, which would have made him more nervous. Then, he swiveled to a designated point and suddenly saw the mustached man he’d so revered as a child.

It didn’t go exactly as planned, though.

Instead of lifetime batting averages, they talked about parenting.

The father of a college player himself, the now 60-year-old Buckner talked about playing fungo with his own boy, following his exploits, being up late the night before to enjoy the fact his son had flown home (Buckner now lives in Boise, Idaho) to fly fish with Dad. And he wanted to know about Jamie’s sons, too.

Instead of discussing just success, Buckner talked about his post-baseball life, dabbling in commercial real estate, being a partner in a car dealership, being downwind to a fraud scheme by a former partner that had led to million-dollar lawsuits.

Instead of lavishing in baseball lore, Buckner talked about a night in Pennsylvania with Mickey Mantle, the timeless icon of the New York Yankees, when the two of them were part of a program and Mantle, who later died waiting for a liver transplant, had too much to drink.

It was that kind of afternoon for Jamie — meeting his object of worship, totally awed, and then subtly realizing they now were on the same level, on the same plain of life, pursuing the same interests — some moments of great joy and others not so great.

“It went frankly perfect,” says Jamie. “He was exactly the guy that I always wanted to know. He acted like the person I had hoped he would always be.”

Yup, in an age of baseball steroid use, inflated egos and humongous salaries, Bill Buckner was something even more than just a hero for Jamie Deffenbaugh.

He was a mere human being, sitting in the van like anyone else.

In an odd twist to the story, I was able to meet Pete Toohill last week, exactly 30 years after I declared Pete as one of my summertime heroes, for his bean walking techniques. Seeing Pete in person was nothing less than spectacular, and did not sit in a van like anyone else. I had actually met Pete many many times before, a fact conveniently overlooked by both of us in developing the odd twist.


Anonymous said...

great work Jamie.

Bill Flick looks a lot like Bill Buckner.


Anonymous said...

Bill Buckner is great.

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