O’Neil always had time for fans

Buck always enjoyed meeting his fans.

The Kansas City Star

Ask anyone who ever met Buck O’Neil — he always had time for a story and a smile. Here are some of the people who were lucky enough to meet him. Click here to read all of the touching stories we received.

Who needs a girlfriend?

“When I was 16, I was the only Royals fan out of all of my friends. So I would go to the games by myself. I decided to go down behind home plate and watch the game. I saw him sitting in his normal seat.

“A couple of innings go by, and he turns to me and says, ‘Why are you here by yourself? Isn’t there a girl you should be with?’ I told him I didn’t have a girlfriend, that I was the only one of my friends that was still a Royals fan.

“I ended up sitting next to him for the rest of the night, just watching baseball. It’s one of the fondest memories I have. I miss that guy.”

— Jeromy Harris

“Well all right”

“Back in 1997, my company was asking me to move to Indianapolis. I was a young, life-long Kansas Citian and had been writing, playing and recording music for a few years, but this corporate gig paid pretty well.

“On the flight home from Indianapolis, I ended up sitting next to Buck. He asked me what I did. I told him, ‘Well I kind of work for this company doing this and that, and I play music.’ Buck, without missing a beat, said in that sincere, kind voice of his, ‘A musician. Well all right.’

“We talked for a little bit about Kansas City and baseball. I went to work the next day and told them I would leave the company to stay in KC rather than transfer. Since that day, I’ve never been on anyone’s payroll. I’ve been singing, writing, recording and performing music. I can’t say for sure that it was all because of him, but I don’t know that I would have made this leap without meeting Buck O’Neil.” — John Velghe

Dr. O’Neil

“I was lucky enough to meet Buck O’Neil when William Jewell College gave him an honorary doctorate in 2006. He’d just been rebuffed by the Hall of Fame, but his spirits were up, and he was thrilled to now be known as ‘Dr. Buck O’Neil.’

— Kimberly Hinkle Menefee

Great reflexes

“Prior to one of the many Royals games we attended as young boys, my brother and I stood at the rail trying to get autographs. We had set our sights on the great Buck O’Neil, who was standing near the home dugout, flashing his typical smile.

“Seeing his chance, my 6-year-old brother cocked his arm back and chucked a ball toward the nearly 90-year-old Buck standing just feet away. I ducked as the ball sailed straight for Buck and was sure that the ageless wonder had finally met his match.

“Just before impact, with the reflexes that had made him a legend, Buck caught the ball inches from his face. He grinned, signed the ball and tossed it back to my stunned kid brother.”

— John Constance

Never too busy

“I remember meeting Buck O’Neil in the Royals’ parking lot when I was about 14. I had waited after the game for at least an hour to see if I could get an autograph from a Royals player.

“Sadly, I didn’t get any autographs. As my mom and I walked back to our car, we saw a silver-haired man about 100 yards away. Buck was just getting into his car. I yelled out to him, ‘Buck, will you sign my baseball?’

“He looked at me with a warm, gentle smile and slowly shut his door. He walked all the way across the parking lot and signed my ball. I nervously said, ‘Thank you so much, Mr. O’Neil.’

“He replied, ‘It’s good to see young guys like you out at the game. We need more young boys interested in baseball … it keeps you from getting in too much trouble.’

— Sean Cates

Pay up!

“On one Saturday morning about 15 years ago, I went to play some golf. The starter asked if I minded if he stuck me with a group of their ‘regulars.’ I said sure, and as I walked out to the putting green, I noticed an old guy wearing bright blue shoes.

“I got closer and realized that it was Buck O’Neil. … One of the guys in his group told Buck how he used to watch the games through a hole in the fence at the old ballpark, and Buck asked him how many times he did that.

“After the guy said, ‘Oh, probably about 20 or 30 times,’ Buck just stood there, silent, with his hand out for a minute or so. The guy finally asked what he was doing, and Buck said, ‘The way I see it, you owe me admission for 20 or 30 games that you failed to pay for. Now pay up!’ ”

— Rod Eisenhauer

Sitting with a legend

“When I was about 12, I went out to the ballpark with my parents. They let me walk around, so I tried to find the best place to catch a foul ball or see the action. I finally found myself right behind home plate on the concourse, building up the nerve to run down to watch a few plays.

“I waited for Bo Jackson to come to bat and made a run for it. The usher told me I had to leave, then I turned and saw an old guy with a huge smile and a Royals hat. He asked, ‘Where are your seats? Why don’t you sit here for a moment?’

“I don’t really remember anything else, just the pure joy of baseball with a man who was kind enough to let me sit right behind home plate. And he let me share his love of the game. I finally figured out the man’s name, but it wasn’t until the Ken Burns documentary that I found out what a star he was.”

— Frank Schloegel

A gentleman

“My oldest daughter had the pleasure of meeting Buck before I did. I quizzed her over what he had shared about his career, the Negro Leagues Museum, etc. All she kept saying was, ‘Dad, he was one of the nicest men I ever met.’ ”

“I had the extreme pleasure of meeting and talking with Buck on three different occasions before his passing. Buck was one of the nicest men you will ever meet.

“There was not a bitter bone in his body, even though he easily could have been bitter about several things. I am a better man because of Buck O’Neil.”

— Tim Coleman

Read more stories from readers on our Memories page. See photos from readers in our gallery.

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