One of life’s great truisms can be found in the words of Forrest Gump: “Mama says life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Chesterfield native Linwood Cook added in one of his sermons, “Find a place where you can make a difference, AND stick with it.” Sound advice indeed that has come to life in the story of 46-year-old Jeff Banister, who made it to the big leagues this season after toiling in the minors in various positions for a quarter of a century. After a lifetime of doing things the right way, Banister has been rewarded with the position of manager Clint Hurdle’s right hand man in the dugout.
Banister has had less than a meteoric career. As a teenager he was diagnosed with bone cancer and nearly had his left leg amputated. He also suffers from osteomyelitis, a bone marrow infection that has resulted in some seven surgeries. While in junior college, a home-plate collision resulted in crushed vertebrae that left him temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. Still the Pirates made him a low-round draft pick in 1986, beginning a seven-year, 515-game minor league career.
Banister performed well, but his path to the majors was blocked by superior talent ahead of him. Banister got the surprise of his life in 1991 with a call-up to the big club. In his very first (and last) game, he was called on to pinch hit. On a 1-1 count, Banister hit a soft ground ball into the hole at short. On a close play, he beat former Richmond Brave Jeff Blauser’s throw for an infield hit. The Baseball Register forever records one Jeffrey Todd Banister as a career 1.000 hitter. Banister was sent back down in a few days and retired as a player in 1993.
“The Pirates like everything about you,” exclaimed scout Buzzy Keller the day Banister signed. That never changed as Banister went to work in the important job of player development in the minor leagues. He spent five seasons as a minor league manager and another decade as a roving instructor. The feeling has been mutual. Each time Banister’s talents have caught the eye of other organizations, he has been quick to make the point he is a Pirate for life.
During the off-season, Banister interviewed for the Pirates managerial job. He lost out to Hurdle but was named bench coach soon after. In the last few months, Banister has been educating the youthful Pirates on how lucky they are to be playing in the greatest city in baseball. In spite of 18 losing seasons, Pirate fans are indeed extremely loyal.
They are as proud of the Bucs as they are the Steelers or Penguins.
And they have the great Jeff Banister in the dugout…the ultimate Plugger!