When it comes to playing softball in Truckee…Buck won’t stop here
When William “Buck” Sumpter went looking for his “dream” house a few years back, he had one prerequisite. His new home would have to include an expansive family room.
“The family room had to be big enough to hold the softball trophies,” said Buck while gesturing to the wall in his family room lined with softball mementos. “The good thing about this room is that there is still plenty of room for more trophies.”
Indeed, like a black hole collects matter, Buck has been collecting trophies during his 23-year-long association with softball in Truckee. As a player, coach and now manager of his own team (aptly named The Bucks), Buck, 65, is one of few people who can say they’ve been a part of the Truckee softball scene since the league began in 1974.
“I moved to Truckee from Livermore in 1973, but Truckee didn’t have a league, so I played in a fast-pitch league in Tahoe City” Buck recalled. “I took up slow pitch in 1974; that was the first year Truckee had a league.
Buck said it took awhile to adjust to slow-pitch softball after having grown up with fast-pitch softball, a variation of the game rarely played by men today.
“I grew up in Oklahoma playing fast-pitch; fast-pitch was so popular in Livermore, there were 18 different teams,” Buck said. “But I came here and ended up playing slow-pitch ever since.”
Buck, who worked construction for Operating Engineers, Local No. 3 while in Truckee, played for several teams in the early years of the Truckee softball league. The first team he played for in Truckee included a memorable character who wasn’t likely to spike anyone at second base.
“The first team I played for was named ‘Leapin’ Cheese’,” Buck said. “That team featured a guy who played barefoot.”
Buck, who was mainly a pitcher, also played for Sittre, Stella Concrete, Donner Gate Chevron and the Boreal Bombers during the late ’70s and early ’80s. He won an individual honor in 1981, being named the Most Valuable Player of the softball league. It was during this time that he also started managing the ballclubs he was playing for.
“I’d get the players and get them out practicing,” Buck said. “If the players had friends who wanted to play, I’d tell them to come out and play, too.”
Following the 1981 season, Buck decided it was time to form a team of his own.
“Sometimes the sponsors of the team wouldn’t pay the entry fees into tournaments and I’d have to pay the entry fee myself,” Buck said. “Hell, I decided ‘I’ll have a team of my own.'”
Since that season, The Bucks have been perennial contenders in the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District’s “D1” league – the highest division of play in Truckee.
During the ’90s, The Bucks have won the league title twice (1994 and 1995) and finished second four times.
The Bucks finished the first half of the 1997 season in fourth place, but Buck said he anticipates a good second half from his squad, which is being coached this year by Ken Isola.
This is Isola’s first year as coach after longtime Bucks’ coach Steve Gallant moved to Tucson last year.
“They’re starting to come together as a ballclub,” Buck said. “We’ll do all right in the second half.”
Buck said The Bucks biggest nemesis over the years has been Atlas Contractors, which took the title four times in the 90s while the Bucks were finishing second.
“We’d be able to whip every team in the league each year – except for them,” Buck said. “It’s always been Atlas Contractors, Stone’s Tire, The Ducks and us battling for the championship.” (The rivalries are cast aside, however, off the field. Buck had the entire Stone’s Tire team over for a barbecue following a recent Reno tournament.)
Dennis DeCoite, an assistant football coach for Tahoe-Truckee High School, played for Atlas in the early ’90sand remembers the rivalry between the two clubs.
“It was a real heads-up, aggressive rivalry,” DeCoite said. “We won the title several years in a row; then he started getting some good athletes on the Bucks to compete against Atlas. Then they ended up winning the league title for several years.”
DeCoite remembers Buck as being a top pitcher well into his fifties.
“He was very good, especially considering he was in his fifties. I take my hat off for him playing into his fifties in Division I – that’s the most competitive league in Truckee softball,” DeCoite said. “You can definitely say Buck is one of the fore-fathers of Truckee softball.”
Buck said that most of the players on The Bucks this year have been with the squad for more than a decade.
“The team used to be made up of all single players who couldn’t get enough softball,” Buck said. “We’d travel all around; one season we must have played more than 90 games.”
“Today, the players are older and have families, so we don’t play as many games,” he said. “If we need a player, though, there’s no trouble getting someone new.”
Although Buck rarely appears on the field for the Bucks in Truckee (he did play one full game for the Bucks last year), he can often be seen on the field in Reno. He currently plays in three senior leagues, including the Over-55, Over-60 and Over-65 leagues. He also has to refer to The Bucks as The Truckee Bucks, because he’s also managing a Reno Bucks team.
“I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been to all the Bucks games in Truckee,” Buck said. “But I’ll be up for every game if the team makes the playoffs.”
Age hasn’t diminished Buck’s self-described “softball spirit,” however. Just a few weeks ago, Buck, who has had a fair share of spats with local umps, was tossed out of a tournament for arguing a call which went against The Bucks.
“Sometime’s the umpires do things to kindly irritate me,” Buck said. “They want to be the boss – and in the end, they are.”
Buck and his wife Bea, who worked for many years at the Shoe Depot on Commercial Row, finally did find their dream house following Buck’s retirement in 1989. Located in the valley between Verdi and Bordertown, their spacious ranch-style home surrounded by 100 acres lies literally on the California/Nevada border and includes a bass pond. When he’s not playing or managing softball, Buck keeps busy on his spread watching over 30 head of cattle and growing alfalfa.
“He’s officially retired, but he works longer hours now than he ever did,” Bea said.
“The cattle and the alfalfa don’t earn a lot of money, but as long as I’m making enough to keep the house up and The Bucks sponsored, I’m doing OK,” Buck said.
Buck has only one regret these days – he wishes he could turn back the hands of time a few years so he could hit the ball farther and scamper around the bases quicker.
“Sometimes I wish I were 50 again, just so I’d play better ball.”
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