Unless you follow the Dodgers farm teams, there’s a pretty good chance that you never heard of Nick Chili Buss until he made his major league debut with the Dodgers on September 14, 2013.
Buss, along with fellow Triple-A Albuquerque Isotope Alex Castellanos, were called up to fill in for the injured Andre Ethier (ankle) and Hanley Ramirez (back). Castellanos, who had previously been called up to the Dodgers this past June in a similar role, was already on the Dodgers 40-man roster; however Buss was not and had to be added. To make room for him, the Dodgers moved fireballer Jose Dominguez from the 15-day disabled list (for a quadriceps injury) to the 60-day DL.
Buss, who will turn 27 in December, was selected by the Dodgers in the eighth round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft out of USC. He spent a total of six season in the minors (all with the Dodgers organization) including the 2013 season with the Isotopes where he was named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team after hitting .303 with 17 home runs, 29 doubles, 11 triples and 100 RBI in 131 games with the ‘Topes. He also had 21 stolen bases, third most on the Isotopes behind the speedy Dee Gordon (49) and Matt Angle (22).
But baseball is a tough and unforgiving sport and the cold hard truth is that Buss, an outfielder throughout his entire 6-year minor league professional career, will have a difficult, if not impossible time breaking into the Dodgers outfield on a full-time or even part-time basis with guys named Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig locking up the Dodgers outfield for the next two to seven years and with 21-year-old phenom Joc Pederson charging hard from behind. As you might expect from a well-grounded mature 26-year-old, Buss is well aware of this.
“This has been an awesome experience,” said the Southfield, Michigan native. “Getting up here for your first time and getting a feel for how things are done is real important. Just getting to the point where you’re comfortable in the locker room and comfortable in the field is big and that’s obviously been what’s most important to me.”
Most baseball fans only see what happens on the field of play and may not be familiar what goes on behind the scenes in the big leagues, especially for a first-time rookie.
“Getting an understanding of what it’s like up here and how things are done, there’s something to it,” said Buss. “It’s been a ton of fun up here, it’s a great team to come up with and be a part of.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Buss, whose full legal name is Nicholas Chili Buss (according to Isotopes play-by-play man Josh Suchon but is listed as Nicholas Gregory Buss by Baseball-Reference.com), says that there isn’t much difference between playing at the Triple-A level and the MLB level.
“I don’t think there’s a huge difference besides the obvious stuff,” said Buss. “It’s just realizing that you’re playing baseball, just in other places in front of more fans and a lot of times it’s on TV, but once you get past all that you’re just playing baseball. At that point it’s just slowing everything down and realizing that you’ve just got to get back to the basics.”
Asked if there was a big difference in the pitching at the major league level verses that at the Triple-A level, Buss’ answer was a bit surprising.
“It’s not a huge difference,” answered Buss. “Maybe guys spot up a little better and don’t make quite as many mistakes, but I haven’t noticed a huge difference so far, but I’ve only played in a couple games.”
Although Buss ended the season hitting a rather dismal .105 (2 for 19), it’s hard not to notice that he struck out only once in the eight games that he appeared in and that he hit the ball sharply in nearly every at bat – most to the right side of the infield (he bats left-handed). Unfortunately, he hit the ball right at the first or second baseman. And though his low batting average didn’t help his playoff roster chances any, it is very clear that Buss is quickly developing into an excellent contact hitter and will be a great guy to have at the plate in hit and run (or run and hit) situations.
Buss is not blind to the fact that his chances of making it to the Bigs permanently as a Dodger are difficult at best, but it is the only organization that he has ever known and he refuses to give up trying. He also hasn’t entertained any thoughts of making it to the Bigs with any other MLB team.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Buss. “That’s not something that you really think about, you just take it one day at a time. If that’s something that happens then you kind of deal with it then, but for now I’m not even thinking about that.”
It’s tough to argue that logic and you can’t help but admire Nick’s’ dedication and passion. It is also impossible not to like and respect Nick Buss.
Godspeed to you, Nick – keep living the dream.