Ron Butler remembers the day he went to find a baseball player and discovered a lifelong friend.
“When I met Mike, it was one of the best days of my life,” he said.
Butler was speaking about Mike Buist, who died Sunday at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s after a brief battle with cancer. He was 72.
Buist had a long association with baseball in Newfoundland, beginning when he moved to St. John’s in the mid-1970s and extending all the way to the present time. He had been executive director of the capital city’s minor baseball association (SJMBA) up until this spring when he stepped down because of health issues.
“He was a very good fellow and a great friend,” said Butler, “and he was someone who could get things done. He was a tremendous organizer.”
In fact, it was organizational work that brought Buist to the province to manage the 1977 Canada Summer Games in St. John’s after having done the same job for the 1973 Games in New Westminster, B.C.
“When I met Mike, it was one of the best days of my life." — Ron Butler
And it was that work that hooked him up with a game of ball … and with Butler.
“It was a Friday afternoon in 1976 I think, and some friends — Reg Ryan and Peter Strong and some others — and I went to the Keg at the old Hotel Newfoundland,” recalled Butler. “I was sitting there and I felt a hand on my shoulder and someone saying ‘Ronnie Butler, you’re the right man in the right spot.’
“It was Terry Trainor and he told us they had just brought in someone from the mainland to run the Canada Games and that he was looking for a game of ball. I was with Feildians at the time, so Fong (Dave) Dowden and I went to the Battery, where this fellow was supposed to be staying and we asked if they had someone there named Mike Buist and they told us that he was probably in the sauna.
“So we waited to meet him and introduce ourselves.
“We didn’t know anything about him, just that he wanted to play. We didn’t know who Mike Buist was or where he was from, but we found out pretty quickly.”
Turns out Buist, a native of Hamilton, Ont., had spent three years in the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals minor league systems after signing a professional contract as a 16-year-old.
During his time in the minors, he was teammates with future big-leaguers like Tug McGraw, Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones, Ed Sprague, Willie Montanez, Mike Torrez, Pedro Borbon, Boots Day, Jerry Reuss and fellow Canadian hurler Reggie Cleveland.
“The Mets signed him as a pitcher and he could really throw, but he could hit, too. He had power. One time in practice, he hit one off me over the outfield lights. I wasn’t in my prime then, but I still can remember how hard he hit it,” said Butler, whose abilities on the diamond, especially as a pitcher, earned him induction into the St. John’s and provincial baseball Halls of Fame.
Besides Feildians, Butler also saw some playing time with the St. John’s Caps in provincial competition.
And he also became involved in the game off the field, too as a coach and executive.
“He was one of the driving forces behind the resurrection of minor baseball back in the late ’70s,” said Joe Wadden, another provincial Hall of Famer who was a mainstay of rival Holy Cross senior teams in those days.
“He was one of the driving forces behind the resurrection of minor baseball back in the late ’70s." — Joe Wadden
“He was one of those fellows who’d say 'Come on, let’s do it’ and you’d go along with him and then you’d get it done.
“With his connections, you didn’t argue with him. Eventually, we got the fields and it was away we go.”
Buist once joked that while he was primarily a pitcher in baseball, when it came to his working career, he was a multi-positional player.
Before his work with the Canada Games Council, Buist, a graduate of McMaster University in Hamilton, also taught in an Ontario high school, held a marketing job for Labatt Brewery, worked in the local hospitality industry, was assistant deputy minister of tourism in the Newfoundland government, was employed as executive director of the Avalon Convention & Visitors Bureau, and founded Destination St. John’s before spending the past five years running operations of the SJMBA.
“Everything he did, he brought his personality to it, and he had a great personality,” said Butler in a halting voice. “When you met Mike Buist, you didn’t forget him.”
Mike Buist leaves to mourn his wife Pat; son Jason (Melanie); daughter Kelly; and grandchildren: Ryan, Ethan and Grace, siblings Richard (Janet), Barb (Jim), Larry (Mirella) and Lorraine (Tony); and a large circle of extended family and friends.
Resting at Caul’s Funeral Home on LeMarchant Road in St. John’s 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, with a funeral Mass 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist., where those in attendance are encouraged to wear their favourite baseball shirt or jersey. There will be a celebration of life immediately following the Mass at the St. John’s Elks Club on Carpasian Road.