Biertempfel: Sanchez gives up No. 14 to Buck again
The day after he was traded to the Pirates, catcher John Buck found a surprise waiting for him in the clubhouse at PNC Park.
Hanging at Buck's locker was his uniform jersey — with No. 14 stitched on the back.
First baseman Gaby Sanchez, who had been wearing No. 14, knows the number has special meaning for Buck. As the Pirates' equipment staff started to put out Buck's new gear, Sanchez told them he wanted to give Buck his number.
“I was just keeping it warm for him,” Sanchez said, smiling.
It's the second time Sanchez has handed over his No. 14 to Buck. When Sanchez was with the Miami Marlins in 2011, Buck joined the team as a free agent. Buck phoned Sanchez to ask if he wanted to swap numbers.
“Fourteen's always kind of has been my number as a way to remember my little brother Paul,” Buck explained. “His birthday was April 14. When we were kids, I was always No. 11, and he was always No. 44. I put the 1 and the 4 together for 14.”
Buck's brother died in 2000. Touched by the story, Sanchez readily agreed to give Buck the 14. Buck returned the favor by giving Sanchez a Brietling Bentley watch.
“It was a no-brainer for me to say, ‘Here you go, have 14. I'll switch up,' ” Sanchez said.
Buck wore 14 while he was with the Kansas City Royals (2006-09), the Toronto Blue Jays (2010) and the Marlins (2011-12). After he was dealt to New York last winter, Buck chose to wear 44 because the Mets already had retired No. 14.
“Some guy named Hodges,” Buck said with a chuckle.
Gil Hodges managed the Miracle Mets to the World Series title in 1969. They retired his number in 1973.
Buck is the 52nd person to wear No. 14 with the Pirates. Hall of Famer Heinie Manush had it in 1939, the final year of his career. Gene Alley wore it from 1964-67, tried No. 22 for a couple of seasons, then went back to 14 from 1970-73. Jim Leyland was No. 14 in 1986, his first season as manager. Derek Bell had it on his back when he announced “Operation Shutdown” in 2002.
Sanchez and Buck became good friends while they were with the Marlins. Buck later moved to Miami, which is Sanchez's hometown, and the two often hang out and train together in the offseason.
Sanchez was traded to the Pirates midway through last season. The Pirates got Buck and Marlon Byrd from the Mets on Aug. 27.
“Once I saw he was coming here, I thought it would be nice for him to come in and have 14 again,” said Sanchez, who took 17, the number that would have gone to Buck.
“There's never been a significant reason for me to have one number,” Sanchez said with a shrug.
Buck was surprised by Sanchez's pre-emptive number switch. Sanchez still wears the watch from their first swap, so Buck isn't sure yet what thank-you gift he'll offer.
“I've been teasing him, telling him I'm going to get us matching charm bracelets with the No. 14 dangling from them or something,” Buck said, laughing.