When you visit a major league ballpark, you expect to see monuments to the team's all-time greats. At AT&T Park in San Francisco, for example, the Giants have honored four Hall of Fame players with statues: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda.
What's not so common is an active player receiving the same kind of treatment. And yet the Giants set aside a day, September 12, to honor superstar catcher Buster Posey at his home park with a life-sized figure. But this one wasn't made of bronze — it was built with Lego bricks.
"It's really neat," the 28-year-old Posey says of his Lego likeness. But it's also a reflection of how important he's become to the Giants and the city of San Francisco.
Since becoming an everyday player in 2010, Posey has been a consistent .300 hitter, and he's gotten the most out of one of the best starting rotations in baseball (including the only Giants perfect game and two other no-hitters). He's also won three World Series and a slew of personal awards, and he has enjoyed visibility around town as the face of the team.
This season he has once again been the top catcher in the game. Through August 27, he led the Giants in average (.315, ninth best in MLB), RBIs (80, 11th), and hits (139, 19th). He has the best caught-stealing percentage of his career (44.0%), which is also the best in baseball. And he's "become an ultimate leader," according to pitcher Matt Cain. "He's really worked on growing into being that guy who tries to find ways to get everybody even better," Cain says.
Buster — whose real name is Gerald Dempsey Posey III — grew up in Leesburg, Georgia, about 175 miles south of Atlanta, playing basketball, football, and golf. But baseball was his best sport. As a pitcher for Lee County High, he racked up numerous personal accolades, including multiple All-America and statewide honors, and helped his team win a regional championship. He was also a member of Team USA at the 2004 Junior Olympics.
That success led Posey to Florida State, where coaches eyed him as a shortstop/third baseman/closer. Posey was a freshman All-America shortstop, but after the Seminoles lost players to the MLB draft and their catcher was injured, Posey was asked to move behind the plate. "Of course, in typical Buster fashion, he said, 'Whatever's best for the team,'" FSU assistant Mike Martin Jr. remembers.
Martin taught Posey the basics of catching, from putting on the gear to framing pitches. He took to the position immediately, earning Baseball America College Player of the Year and USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award, given to the best amateur player in the country, as a junior in 2008.
That summer, Posey was selected by the Giants fifth overall in the MLB draft. He began the 2009 season at Class A San Jose. By July he had moved up the ranks to the Triple A Fresno Grizzlies. When Giants catcher Bengie Molina was injured late in the season, Posey was called up and got his first big league start in mid-September.
"Everybody heard about him, wondered what he was going to do," says Cain, who pitched Posey's first game, a 10--3 loss to the L.A. Dodgers. "He just stepped right in and took right over. He did everything at an advanced level for a rookie."
Posey began 2010 back in Fresno but was called up for good that May. He became an instrumental part of the Giants' first World Series championship since 1954 and was named NL Rookie of the Year.
Everyone expected big things from him in his second season. But early in '11, a rough collision at home plate with the Marlins' Scott Cousins left Posey with a broken leg and torn ligaments in his ankle. He spent the rest of the season on the disabled list.
Posey roared back in 2012, setting career bests in all offensive categories and catching that perfect game, with Cain on the mound. (He has since caught two more no-nos: Tim Lincecum's in '13 and Chris Heston's in '15.) Posey was named NL Comeback Player of the Year, NL MVP, and helped the Giants win their second World Series in three years. That earned him an eight-year, $167 million contract extension. A third World Series title in '14 solidified his role as a core member of the Giants and his place in San Francisco. Says Posey, "I have a family [here] now, and it's a place we're definitely happy to be."
By all accounts Posey, his wife, Kristen, and their four-year-old twins keep a relatively low profile around the Bay Area. But as his roots have grown stronger in San Francisco, he has taken on a more active role in the broader community.
Last year, Posey and his wife began supporting the George Mark Children's House, a hospice care and medical facility for kids and young adults with life-limiting illnesses. He also became the commissioner of Junior Giants Baseball, a youth education and character development program geared toward underserved youth run by the Giants Community Fund.
"If I can share my passion with a kid that might make them feel strongly about baseball and give them something to look forward to on a daily basis, that's an easy call," Posey says. "We are playing a kid's game as adults. So it brings you back to earth a little when you see the unadulterated joy that a kid gets from baseball."
That joy was on full display in June. At an event at AT&T Park, Posey handed new baseball gloves to 1,000 kids. For some, it was their first glove. "It makes you light up to see those kids with such big eyes looking up at him and he's handing them a glove," says Sue Petersen, Executive Director of the Giants Community Fund.
Posey has always had an impact on the field as a quietly confident, mad-talented player and leader. But the mark he's beginning to leave off the field has turned him into a role model — both in the community and in the clubhouse. The pitching staff trusts him. His teammates respect him. And kids (and adults) idolize him.
"He's the epitome of a baseball player," Martin says. "I think he's going to be one we talk about for a long, long time."
Photos: Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images (catching), LEGO Systems Inc. (Lego Posey), Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (action)
Buster Posey: Baseball's Model Catcher
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