Major league lesson from former Jay
Dawgs: Homer Bush urges players to listen to their coaches
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 05, 2014 06:00 am
A former major league gave some sage advice to the young ballplayers at the Okotoks Dawgs banquet — listen to their coaches and work hard.
“I grew up in the inner city and my father was killed when I was five years old and my mom didn’t have the financial means or the time to help in sports, so I relied heavily on my youth coaches,” said former Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Homer Bush, the Dawgs guest speaker. “So I say thank-you coaches for doing your job.”
Bush, who grew in the rough neighbourhood of East St. Louis, used his athleticism to get offered a football scholarship to Mizzou after a record-breaking career in high school as a wide receiver.
However, it didn’t come easy.
“I wanted to make my mother proud and do some great things with my life but I knew it would have to come from outside of East St. Louis because there was little opportunity,” Bush said. “I wasn’t the smartest cat in the room, but I was the fastest so I turned to sports.”
Bush ultimately landed a spot as a receiver on his highly-ranked high school team. He had initial success, but then was benched after coming down with a severe case of the drops.
He got help from a coach.
“He told me that if I come in early in the morning and catch passes for a quarterback he was grooming, he would guarantee me a scholarship,” Bush said. “Not only did he throw me 80 passes a morning, but I now have two state records that still stand today.
“Can you imagine the lesson I took from that whole experience?”
He used those lessons when he opted for baseball after being drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1991 and then grinding out in the minors. He wound up in spring training with the 1998 powerhouse New York Yankees.
“You go up and down that roster and you have Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, and Homer Bush — man they moved the batboy one slot early on this thing,” Bush said to a laughing audience. “I had no business being on the team — but don’t tell my son that.”
He said he had a strong spring training in ’98 and had to battle for the final spot on the roster.
“After all I had gone through high school, I can’t tell you how prepared I was for those 30 days of training,” he said. “I hit something like .440, hit home runs, I was determined to make that 1998 team… I knew what it was to work hard and persevere.”
Bush went on to win a World Series ring — the same ones worn by future hall-of-famer Derek Jeter.
“When I was with Jeter he was young but he was becoming the Prince of New York City for sure,” Bush said in an interview. “What I couldn’t believe was how humble his parents had raised him. He was so humble and polite.”
Bush saw some action in the 1998 World Series as a pinch runner when the Yanks swept the San Diego Padres.
“It was amazing,” Bush said. “High intensity from the very first pitch. What I do remember when we won, is the champagne kept getting better as we got deeper into the post-season.
“By the time we won the World Series, we were drinking Dom Pérignon. I didn’t drink then and I don’t drink now, but I had a little sip to remember the moment.”
Bush was traded as part of a package to the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of the 1998 season for pitcher Roger Clemens.
He went on to have the best of his eight seasons in the bigs.
“They just didn’t know how to pitch to me that year and I was wide-eyed-and-bushy-tailed and I just hit the ball — I hit .320,” Bush said. “The next year, they started to figure me out.”
Bush ended up signing a multi-million-dollar contract with the Blue Jays.
“I loved everything about Toronto, the fans treated me well during my ups-and-downs and the front office were very loyal to me and kept me in the loop,” Bush said. “I just hate that I didn’t even fill the shoes halfway of Roberto Alomar… it’s seemed like I was the 19th guy to play second base since Robbie left. I just think I could have done a better job — I was trying to do too much.”
Bush left the Jays in 2002 and ended his career in 2004 after a brief stint with the Yankees. He is now a hitting coach with the San Diego Padres organization.
He credits sports and his coaches for his success and getting out of the streets of East St. Louis.
“It was tough, the surroundings were really bad,” Bush said. “There were temptations to do some of that nonsense stuff, get into gangs and drugs, but I was so focused on sports that I was able to bypass that stuff.”
The Dawgs handed out the hardware for the 2013 Okotoks Dawgs season. The MVP was Thomas Rodrigues; the Rookie of Year, Josh Myers; Pitcher of the Year, Hayden Cleveland and True Grit, Jordan Procyshen.
The winner of the Jim Henderson Junior Dawg Scholarship was infielder Eduardo Sanchez.
Proceeds from the Dawgs banquet go towards their on-going programs.