My kind of town, Chicago is; my kind of town.
Which is where, on vacation last week, I caught up with two members of the Lexington Legends Hall of Fame: John Buck and Josh Anderson, in town for the Kansas City Royals series against the Chicago White Sox.
Anderson, a centerfielder, is unquestionably the most popular individual to play for the Legends, in 2004. The first Kentuckian (Eubank, in Pulaski County) to play for the team, Anderson was selected by the Houston Astros in the third round of the 2003 draft, out of Eastern Kentucky University. He led the NCAA in stolen bases that season with 57.
With the Legends, Anderson set club records by batting .326 and stealing 47 bases in just 73 games before being promoted to High-A Salem (where he hit .268 and stole 31 bases). He tied a minor-league record by going 6-for-6 in a home game against the Greensboro Bats, scoring five times and stealing four bases in a 13-6 victory.
He rose to the big leagues in 2007, hitting .358 and stealing one base over 21 games with the Astros.
Soon after that season, the Astros traded Anderson to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for RHP Oscar Villarreal. Anderson spent most of the 2008 season with Triple-A Richmond, but also played 40 games for Atlanta (.294, 10 steals).
This season has been especially busy for Anderson, who turned 27 on Aug. 10.
On March 30, the Braves traded him to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for RHP Rudy Darrow. Anderson hit .242 with 13 steals for Detroit.
Then, just ahead of the trade deadline, the Royals got Anderson from Detroit on July 30 for cash.
Six days later, Anderson’s wife Heather gave birth to their first child, Easton Aaron.
“I got time off for the birth, but it kind of drug out and we waited around and waited around,” Anderson said. “Finally, he was born Aug. 4, and I had to leave Aug. 5. So my time at home wasn’t really with him a lot, but I was there for the birth and that’s the most important thing.”
If you thought going from the first-place Tigers to the last-place Royals would “bum out” Anderson, then you don’t know him very well.
“I just want to play,” he said. “And wherever I go I’m going to play my best and play hard. … The fact that I went from the Tigers (to) here, I didn’t think about that one bit, really. I just looked at the opportunity that was available here and the opportunity that I’ve been blessed with. And for that I’m thankful and looking forward to it.”
In his first 13 games with Kansas City, Anderson is hitting .233 and has a pair of steals.
He says the Royals have “made the transition very easy for me.” And he is enchanted by refurbished Kauffman Stadium.
“I think, of all the stadiums I’ve ever played in, it’s the prettiest park you’ll ever see,” he said. “The fans are great. They draw great crowds. And it’s a great place to play.
“You’ve got a staff here that cares about each guy and wants to win. And this clubhouse is full of great guys, so I don’t see how you can ask for much more than that.”
Buck, now 29, hit 22 homers and drove in 73 runs to help the Legends to their 2001 title. His most memorable game came against the Charleston (W.Va.) AlleyCats. He smacked a first-inning grand slam homer and, an inning later, had a three-run blast.
He also handled a pitching staff that finished third in the SAL with an ERA of 3.10.
Now, he’s in his sixth season with the Royals. His career totals for 569 games include a .232 batting average, 67 homers and 252 RBI.
He came to Kansas City as part of a three-team deal involving the Astros, Royals and Oakland A’s.
An early season back injury has limited Buck to 44 games (through Monday) this season. Now, the injury is behind him.
“I feel great. The back’s good,” said Buck, who is hitting .212 with five homers and 29 RBI. “Didn’t play a whole lot when I had the bad back. With three catchers, it definitely gave me time to heal the way I don’t ever feel it, which is a good thing.
“Obviously, with a back injury, you’ve got to take it seriously and let it heal. Even though you feel good and want to go out there and just do it every day. But I’m glad I took the time off that I did because now I don’t feel it at all.”
Kansas City’s struggles are difficult on the psyche. Buck says the team isn’t playing up to it capability. Nevertheless, he continues to savor life in the big leagues.
“It’s what I dreamed of. We don’t win as much here as we did in Lexington, but you’re still playing baseball, you’re doing what you love to do,” he said. “Playing at the highest level. Even though we’re not having the best season, still, you’re playing big-league baseball.”