Drew Butera was 4 years old when he sat in the deafening Metrodome for game seven of the World Series in 1987. His father, Sal, was a reserve catcher for the Minnesota team that beat St. Louis.
Then he was in his father’s sports car when it erupted in flames in the championship parade, apparently because confetti clogged up the exhaust system.
Drew Butera has no specific memories of that mayhem, but his involvement reflects a certain inherent entanglement with a game he believes he has loved “since I was born, literally.” There is photographic evidence of roughly that, in the form of Butera dragging a plastic orange bat along despite a pesky cast on his broken leg in the mid-1980s.
All of which explains something about how Butera is wired and has come to parallel his father’s career, now as a trusted backup for Royals All-Star catcher Sal Perez as they return to Kauffman Stadium for a home stand.
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In more ways than one, Butera, 32, is conscious of the broader scheme of things — and of the meaning of being part of something bigger than him even in a me-first world.
For instance, consider what he thinks when people tell him it must stink to sit behind stars like Joe Mauer in Minnesota or Perez here.
“But I look at it in a different way,” he said. “I get an opportunity to watch the game’s best and to learn from them and pick things up from them and to help my career and to also help the team.”
Moreover, even if he can’t remember that 1987 game seven or the parade, he’s most driven by what came with it for his father: a championship ring.
“Whenever we get into something competitive, he just holds up his hand and shows the World Series ring. So for me, that’s what I want,” said Butera, whose father now is a scout for Toronto and could not be reached for this story. “So the way I look at it, if I have to carry pens around for people (to be part of a championship) I will. …
“I’m completely OK with that.”
In this case, Butera can know he serves a dual purpose of contributing both directly and indirectly.
Including the 2014 postseason, Perez started an absurd, major-league-record 158 games behind the plate.
He was entirely the worse for the wear: Through 85 games, he hit .283 with 11 home runs and a .765 on-base plus slugging percentage. Thereafter, he hit .229, six and .595.
With more relief this season, starting at catcher in 109 of the Royals’ 130 games, Perez seems to have more life in his bat at this stage than a year ago.
In his 19 starts over the last 28 days, he is hitting .301 with three homers and 12 RBIs.
Thank Butera for that.
Since the Royals acquired him in May and he replaced Erik Kratz, Butera has started 20 times.
And he’s only gaining momentum. He started 14 games in July and August with the bonus of hitting .280 in his last seven starts.
So if Butera’s presence and contribution may seem a minor point, it’s not.
He’s helped the Royals stop treating Perez’s backup as the shunned Maytag repairman, epitomizing a vital need if they are seeking to do all they can to gear toward October.
Maybe that’s why the mere mention of Butera evokes raves from manager Ned Yost, a former catcher himself.
It’s not just that Butera calls a great game, is nimble at blocking pitches, throws accurately with a quick release and is fundamentally sound enough offensively to provide what Yost considers “gravy” for his job.
It’s also about Butera’s upbeat attitude and preparation.
“He knows his role. … So he never complains,” Yost said. “But he’s always ready, every single day, in case you call on him. He does all the homework every day, if he’s going to (start) or doesn’t (start), in case he gets in the game. …
“He’s perfect. He meets all the requirements to be a solid backup catcher on a championship-caliber team.”
Butera’s bloodline and affinity for the game notwithstanding, his path to this was no cinch.
As the family moved frequently through his father’s time with five organizations, Butera was growing slowly and gravitated toward playing shortstop.
Since he aspired to a career in the sport, he determined that his speed — “or should I say lack of speed?” he quips — would later work against him.
What he knew he had were the good hands, good arm, good feet and the underappreciated smarts to work behind the plate and conduct a game.
That skill-set got him picked by the New York Mets in the fifth round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Central Florida.
He thought he was on a seamless path to the big leagues after he made the All-Star team in high-A ball in St. Lucie only to have a painful promotion to Class AA Binghamton.
“It seemed like everything went from being easy and smooth to really difficult, from how I was playing to living situations … to just not really having any common interests with anybody on the team,” he said, adding: “I felt like I was by myself: 24 people and me. Whatever, that’s the way it is sometimes.”
After one day game, Butera, who is Catholic, was walking home and stopped in a church.
He was oblivious to all around him, he said, not exactly crying but maybe with tears in his eyes and praying more passionately than he ever had before.
“ ‘Help me get through this situation,’ ” he remembered asking. “ ‘Whatever I need to do, help me to be positive.’ ”
The next day, he was traded to the Twins — to Butera, part of a remarkable affirmation of his faith.
With Minnesota, he was among friends he still has and with whom he could be who he most was: a team-first contributor.
That view sustained him through moves to the Dodgers and Angels before the Royals, a team he enjoyed watching for the fun he could see them having. Now he’s part of that team, a good-natured fit in the clubhouse.
He plays not just for himself but to match his father’s achievement … just without the pyrotechnics.