When Joe Buck towers over the Chambers Bay Golf Course in Washington to finish up Fox’s coverage of the U.S. Open this weekend, his two daughters – 19-year-old Natalie and 16-year-old Trudy – will be somewhere nearby.
“They’ll probably standing in a corner of the tower and rolling their eyes and asking, ‘Why did we come here?’” Buck said. “Probably texting and Instagramming and Facebooking non-stop with their heads down.”
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Not far away will also be Buck’s wife, Michelle Beisner, an ESPN NFL reporter and host whom he married just more than a year ago.
Also very close will be his late father, Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Buck, who died 13 years ago this week.
Although Joe Buck says he had more of a best-friend than father-son relationship with Jack Buck, and every day felt as if it was like Father’s Day, he might have a moment to pause and remember the times they used to get on the golf course together and made each other laugh.
Just before the 46-year-old Joe Buck began this weekend’s broadcast, he talked through the dynamics of Father’s Day 2015, as well as its past and future:
Q: Based on what you took away from your relationship with your own dad for the 30-some years you had with him, how do you maximize your quality time with your own two daughters while functioning in this business?
A: I think I do what most parents do – when I’m not working, or if I don’t have any responsibilities that I have to cover, I’m with them. The thing is when they’re older, their priorities isn’t always being with their dad. I’m not talking about two kids that I need to tuck into bed at night. In fact if I did that now, it’d just be kind of creepy. I’m to the point where they know they’ve got me, I’m wrapped around their fingers, I’m there for anything and everything. The hard thing has always been that I’ve traveled and missed a lot of weekends, but that’s not the sad song. The truth of it is that it’s been great. Sometimes it feels like forever since I’ve seen them, and that can only be a week. Sometimes, I can drag them out (to an event) with me, and they’ll miss some school along the way, and some things with their friends, but they’ve gotten to see the country at least, if not the world, and be there pretty much with me every step of the way.
Q: With your oldest is getting into sports broadcasting after her first year at Indiana, is that something you’d encourage her to get into?
A: Of course I would. My wife has just hosted two “NFL Live” shows for ESPN and has done the reporting and the sit-down interviews. She’s someone my oldest daughter admires because of what she’s been able to accomplish, so they talk about it. My daughter’s not obsessed with it. She’s got a talent for it — she’s interning at a the Fox affiliate in St. Louis this summer, they put her behind the anchor desk and she’s done some reports with scripts and they’re blown away an intern could do something like that already. There’s some genetics involved there and some osmosis for the way I got involved in it, too. Not just pulling favors but being there and taking it all in and aware of what the lifestyle’s like. What you need to do and shouldn’t do. I paid attention to my dad and I know they’ve both paid attention to what I do. It means a lot that one potentially wants to go into what I do, and the other might be behind a camera making ‘Jurassic World 3.’
Q: Any plans for more kids?
A: It’s out there. That’s not always in my control or Michelle’s control. I know she would want to experience it. She’s 38 and hasn’t had that thrill. I’m certainly a big fan of being a parent. The most important job I’ll have, come Sunday, is being my two daughter’s father, not being the host of the 115th U.S. Open. No matter what happens there – who wins, who loses or how we cover it – those are the people who are your core and the ones I take care of. And hopefully someday they’ll take care of me. I’ve got to put the time in now.
Q: Do your daughters make a big deal out of Father’s Day?
A: I’ve got a lot of ties and golf balls and things from them, but I’m not interested in that. I’ve always asked them, and I’m always one to give, a well-written card. Not one they pick off the rack, but one you can fill the entire inside of it. That’s what I hope for. I have all those framed on the wall in my bedroom and I keep adding to them. For the first time, my 19-year-old said, ‘I can’t wait to give you your Father’s Day present.’ And this was a month ago. How could you possibly be thinking along those lines? All I know is it hasn’t been well planned when you open up a Father’s Day card and the envelope is still wet. That’s when you know it’s a last-second card.
Q: Is this a tough business to be in to be a dad? No matter how much time you want to spend with your kids, is it really enough?
A: I’m sure everyone feels that way, but I actually think the opposite – this may be the best possible profession to be a dad. From what I’ve carved out at Fox, I’m the weekend guy. I don’t do games every day in St. Louis. When I’m home, I’m home. I do my reading and research at home. I drove my daughters to school and picked them up and did homework with them a lot. I kind of cheated the system that day.
Q: How do you get your head around that length of time that your own dad has been gone now?
A: It’s funny, the years are hard for me to believe in some respect, but in others, it’s almost like he’s been gone forever. A lot has happened over the last 13 years in my life. A lot has been good — some things I certainly didn’t expect. The first few years he passed away, I found myself reaching for the phone at the end of a broadcast wanting to bounce questions off him or get his temperature on whatever it was I had just done. That’s not even in my mind any more.
I have friends and family who mark those dates when somebody died and they’re aware of all that. I just don’t think like that. I don’t know. I’m so aware of him pretty much every day of my life, then I have someone bring his name up or tell me a story maybe five, six, seven times a week — still — that he’s in some ways still with me.
He died never seeing the Boston Red Sox were World Champions. It’s been that long ago. I just don’t get that wistful about it. Maybe because when he died I went into master of ceremonies mode at his wake, which is just crazy to think about, at Busch Stadium. I gave the eulogy at his funeral. I had to grieve in public. I don’t know if that turned off that emotion for me. Maybe I’ll have to spend an hour with Dr. Phil and figure that out.
Q: You’ve revealed in a recent SI.com podcast that you’re writing a book about your life – presumably, about yourself and your dad, and it will include your own family history. What kind of things will you be including that people might not be expecting?
A: People think about my dad’s career, or him as a person, and maybe they didn’t see his flaws, or the hard times, or the times of criticism in his career. I carry around with me an article from USA Today that Rudy Martzke once wrote back in the early 1990s that is just scathing. I read it the first time while I was in college – maybe I was the only person in the history of the world who had a subscription to USA Today while I was in college but I did it because I wanted to read what this guy was writing about my father every Monday. I carry it with me because if my dad could digest that and move past it, then certainly I can, too. There’s a lot of the beginnings of my life with him, the places he took me, the things I saw, the reasons why I got into this. Life on the road with him. The gist of the book is: I’ve done all these things on TV and people recognize me but they don’t have any idea who I am and what I’m about. It doesn’t matter to me if one person buys it or a billion buy it, I just want to get it out there. There are things pretty revealing and things that will be unexpected but I’ll feel good throwing it out there.
Q: What would your dad say about the fact you’re broadcasting a golf tournament – and not just any one, but a U.S. Open?
A: He’d probably laugh. I remember when I was younger and he was coming home after a game and he’d lay down on the couch and turn on the Masters or U.S. Open and start dozing off. I’d come into the room and be like, ‘Why are you watching this? It’s the most boring thing on television. How could you even care to turn this on?’ And as I got older and had kids, I realized what a departure golf on TV can be, and how much fun it is sitting back. This is why people buy big TVs just to see how good the color is, for this sport. Although they might be disappointed after this week. I was stunned my dad cared enough to watch this, but then I got it. It’s a moment of peace on the couch. It’s where the crowd noise isn’t banging you in the ear drums and people aren’t hitting you over the head. It had a little breadth to it. I’m still learning this, but I want a nice easy pace to this.
Q: Could your dad have done TV golf? Did he ever want to?
A: At the end of his career when he wasn’t traveling, yet he wasn’t totally healthy, he wanted to go to the Masters. He’d never seen it. CBS, even when he wasn’t working for them, got him in one year. He was there for a day and he bought me a golf shirt, I remember. Golf was part of his sports library but I don’t believe he was ever asked to do it. He could have done anything. Although, he wanted to do horse racing but he was colorblind so he couldn’t see the difference in the colors of the silks.
Q: Did you and your dad golf much together?
A: Oh, yeah. He and Stan Musial used to golf every Monday at a public course in St. Louis called The Bluffs and I’d play with him quite a bit when I was in my mid-20s. It made me laugh. Whenever Stan would tee it up on the first tee, people would gather around to watch and everyone was quiet. And he’d say, ‘Hey everybody, come on, I like noise when I hit!’ so everyone would cheer and applaud and he’d crack one down the middle. It wasn’t really far considering how old both of them were. It was like the Odd Couple going down the fairway, but those two had a ball.
The other thing is, my dad had a bad temper about golf and would get really frustrated. I remember once he broke 90 and he brought the card home from Bellireve, and it was the like the greatest accomplishment physically he ever achieved. It’s funny to look back on that because I’ve obsess about my own golf game so much. He’d tell me to cool it.
One of the best pictures I have in my office is of me as a 10-year-old in Florida during spring training when my dad taking me out to hit balls at the driving range. There’s another one of us playing at Old Warson in St. Louis, at The Bluffs.
It’s no different than when people say you learn a lot about someone when you’re out playing golf with them. I think that’s true. This game lends itself to being honest, being on time, keeping your score, be courteous — but also have fun. When I was with my dad, we laughed and had a good time. It’s a good exercise in getting away, putting the phones away and focus on each other and your game, which can frustrate or elate.
Q: Pretend you have one more day with your dad on Father’s Day. What kind of things would you plan to do?
A: We would probably … .good question … we’d always played pool after dinner in the basement. If it was now, I know I’d want to just sit with him and ask a million questions to a point where he’d tell me to stop talking. I’ve wanted him around to talk about things like career, talk about marital advice since he went through a divorce and had a first set of kids, how do you balance all that.
He and I could make each other laugh and that was our bond. He was a tough audience. He was the greatest after-dinner speaker I ever heard. I’ve seen a lot of great ones. He could connect with the crowd and say the right thing at the right time. He loved having me around even when I was eight or nine years old. By the time I was 12 I went to every National League city with him. He’d take me to Vegas and go to the Dunes, and he’d roll craps all night and I’d play Donkey Kong and he could trust me because I wasn’t causing any trouble.
I could make him laugh like nobody else would. He always called me ‘Buck,’ and he’d say, ‘Well, whatta want to do today, Buck?’
I’m going to be thinking about this kind of stuff this weekend. I have that dream all the time of him being a live, and he’s just been hiding for the last 13 years. Like, ‘where have you been?’ He was sick in the hospital for the last seven months of his life and we got a lot of time together when him lying there and me sitting next to him. I learned a lot about life, and death. He told me, ‘I hope you realize when you get to this point, it’s too late. Live your life, don’t stress and you only get one of them.’
I want to thank him for that. I don’t often take that advice enough.