It was 44 years ago when Bill Buckner started his professional baseball career in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He still remembers it like it was yesterday.
Buckner spent two years in the minor leagues. He learned how to play the game from Hall of Fame skipper Tommy Lasorda, who managed the Triple-A Spokane Indians at the time.
"Those were some of the fondest memories I have, playing minor-league ball," Buckner said in a phone interview. "Tom Lasorda made us feel like we were playing in the big league. He was a great manager to have; he filled that desire to do well, to win and love the game."
Buckner turned his fond minor-league memories into a productive 22-year career in the majors. He had his best years with the Cubs, hitting over .300 four times in his seven full seasons with the club and winning the batting title in 1980.
But Buckner has been remembered most for a moment of infamy toward the end of his career in 1986. Then as a first baseman for the Boston Red Sox, Buckner botched an attempt to field a ground ball in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the World Series. The ball rolled between his legs and into right field, allowing the winning run to score for the New York Mets, who went on to win the series in seven games.
The error followed Buckner through the rest of his playing career, as he became the fans' scapegoat for Boston's defeat. After his playing days were done, Buckner moved his family to Boise, Idaho, where he focused on raising his children. During his post-baseball days, Buckner traveled the country making appearances at events and serving as a motivational speaker.
However, Buckner wished to get back into the game he loved. After one season as manager of the Can-Am League Brocktown Rox, Buckner became hitting instructor of the Cubs' short-season affiliate, the Boise Hawks.
As a coach, Buckner hopes to instill the same values he learned during his minor-league career.
Bill Buckner, second from left, was part of the 100th anniversary celebration at Fenway Park in April.
"Having the right attitude is so important in this game," said Buckner. "You can have lot of talent but you have to have a special attitude and work ethic. It's a tough business."
As a coach in the short-season level, Buckner is working with a young team. In fact, just four players on Boise's 25-man roster were born before 1990.
Buckner's goal is to teach each player the mechanics of the game, while building the proper mindset to be a major-leaguer.
"I enjoy working with the young players and trying to help them get to the next step," said Buckner. "They're so young here, they're still learning the game. It's amazing, you can't really assume anything, that they know things. You're putting a lot of pressure on them; it's all a part of the learning process."
Buckner is living the life of a minor-leaguer once again, spending long hours traveling by bus, while logging many hours analyzing his hitters. After the Hawks' Tuesday night game, the team will travel nine hours from Keizer, Ore., to Boise.
"I've done it before, so it's nothing new," Buckner said of the minor-league lifestyle. "It's not like I didn't know what to expect. It's tough, whether you're 30 years old, 18 or 60. It's a tough schedule."
However, being around the game of baseball is what makes it all worth it for Buckner.
"I enjoy it," he said. "Minor League baseball is tough -- the conditions, the travel. I don't know beyond this year what I'm going to do but I'm just going to try to enjoy it."
During his career, Buckner batted .289 while recording 2,715 hits. He was an All-Star in 1981 and finished 10th in the MVP voting twice.
Now as a coach, Buckner aspires to lead the Cubs' prospect to similar major-league success. For him, that's the ultimate reward.
"That's the only reward (minor-league coaches) have," he said. "We don't make a lot of money, we put in a lot of hours. It's all worth it having the reward of helping the kids move up and get to the big leagues."