Adios, Chili. Welcome back, Nick.
May has been that kind hello-goodbye month for Nicholas Gregory Chili Buss, who’s been learning the hard way that nothing is certain in the life of a professional baseball player.
As a member of the Sacramento River Cats, Buss struggled through an 0-for-4 night and was hit by a pitch. But his Cats did walk away with an 8-7 victory over the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Buss admits he never anticipated being in the visiting dugout at Isotopes Park. In fact, he began the current homestand as a reasonably entrenched member of the home team.
The 27-year-old outfielder was coming off an eye-opening 2013 season in which Buss hit .303 with 17 home runs and 100 RBIs. He was a Pacific Coast League All-Star and earned his first big league call-up in September.
Buss also made his mark in Albuquerque, where he was named team MVP and chosen as the club’s fan favorite. The fact Nick agreed to be called by his middle name, Chili, couldn’t have hurt.
Buss returned to the ‘Topes this season as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 40-man roster. But after going 2-for-4 against Salt Lake on April 30, he discovered just how fast things can change.
The Dodgers designated Buss for assignment May 1 to clear a 40-man roster spot when Isotopes right-hander Red Patterson was needed to pitch in LA’s doubleheader against Minnesota. Buss was placed on waivers, giving other clubs an opportunity to claim him before the Dodgers could re-sign him to a minor league deal.
“It was strange,” Buss said, “having days off, down time in the middle of the season. I was in limbo, so I went to visit my brother in California. You really have no idea if or when someone’s going to claim you.”
Thinking he might clear waivers, Buss returned to Albuquerque on Sunday. That was the day he was claimed by the Oakland Athletics and assigned to Triple-A Sacramento.
“I’m happy for Chili,” Isotopes manager Damon Berryhill said. “It’s tough for us to lose him because he really fit into our lineup and he’s a great team player.”
The chain of events meant Buss could simply stay in Albuquerque. His new team, Sacramento, was to start a series at Isotopes Park on Tuesday.
“I was already here waiting for ’em,” Buss said. “It was a little unique playing my first game against my old team.”
Odder still, Patterson (optioned back to Albuquerque by the Dodgers) was the Isotopes’ starting pitcher Tuesday.
“I was pretty geeked up seeing Red out there,” Buss said. “But the toughest part is you get used to playing with a good group of guys, and now I’m on the other side.”
Buss received a round of applause the first time he was introduced Tuesday. Otherwise, he’s now one of the bad guys.
Isotopes public address announcer Stu Walker previously introduced the outfielder with an enthusiastic call of “Chiliiiii Bussssss.” In a River Cats uniform he’s merely Nick Buss.
“He’ll never be Chili again,” Walker said with a chuckle.
Perhaps not in Albuquerque, but if Buss earns an opportunity to play with the Oakland Athletics, Chili could again be running hot.
Not only will the A’s green-and-gold uniform colors effectively answer the requisite “Red or Green?” questions, but Buss won’t even be the only Chili in the home dugout. Former major league star Chili Davis, in honor of whom Buss received his middle name, is the Athletics’ hitting coach.
“The man with the name,” Buss said of Davis. “I actually talked to him a few years ago, so he knows about me (sharing his name). I doubt if he’d remember, but he does know.”