SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- San Francisco Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey has only had this Major League Baseball gig going for three years now, but it has already been one ridiculous rollercoaster ride. Two World Championship seasons accented by individual awards sandwiched around a season of misery. The ride has been mostly joyous, but at its midway point it also became unfairly cruel.
Posey, who will celebrate his 26th birthday on March 27, is at the 2012 World Series Champion Giants' spring training camp here this month, preparing to open his fourth big-league season as the young face of the storied franchise. His rapid rise to stardom was almost unimaginable when he graduated from Lee County (Ga.) High School in 2005 as a primary right-handed pitcher and shortstop.
Today, Posey is recognized as one of the top catchers in the game, and in 2012 became only the fifth catcher in history to win a National League Most Valuable Player Award. The others: Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella, Ernie Lombardi and Gabby Hartnett. He also became only the seventh player in MLB history -- and the first since Frank Robinson in 1966 -- to win a league MVP, a batting title and a World Series championship in the same season.
Posey earned $615,000 in 2012. During the offseason he avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a contract that pays $8 million this year, a 13-fold increase. 2012 was a very, very good year in the life of Buster Posey.
Yes, life is indeed good for the humble Albany, Ga., native as he enjoys being one of the biggest sports stars in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet he hasn't forgotten his Georgia roots or the five Perfect Game events at which he competed between 2003 and 2005, including the 2004 Perfect Game National Showcase at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the 2004 Perfect Game All-American Classic at Cal Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md.
"(The PG events) gave me the opportunity to play against some really good competition," Posey said during a brief conversation with PG last week before the Giants were scheduled to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in a spring training Cactus League game at venerable Scottsdale Stadium.
"It allows you step outside your comfort zone a little bit, and I have really fond memories of those days, doing the Perfect Game events and the All-American Classic."
Posey is one of 24 alumni from the 2004 PG National Showcase that have made MLB debuts, including Andrew McCutchen, Justin Upton, Ike Davis and Cameron Maybin. Those four fellow first-round draft picks were also teammates of Posey's on the East Team at the '04 PG All-American Classic.
Being a Georgia boy, Posey also affiliated himself briefly with East Cobb Baseball, and played with the Astros in two PG WWBA World Championships in Jupiter, Fla. He made his PG debut as a 16-year-old at the 2003 WWBA World Championship pitching and playing shortstop for the Astros, who won the championship that year. It was at that event that Posey's fastball was first gunned at 93 mph.
"I just kind of did some spot-starts pitching with (the East Cobb Astros); I never really played a full summer there," he said. "But I was fortunate enough to play in some of the bigger tournaments with them, and that was a really good experience."
The scouting report from the 2004 PG National Showcase noted that Posey was "already a polished four-pitch pitcher with excellent athletic ability" and described him as "one of the very top pitchers in the 2005 class." It also stated that Posey "shows big-time hitting ability with surprising power" and "At the top college in the country he is a top player immediately."
Major league teams didn't bite. Posey was no better than a 50th round pick by the Anaheim Angels right out of high school in 2005, so he honored the commitment he made to Coach Mike Martin Sr. at Florida State University. It was at FSU where Posey’s future was dramatically altered.
After being named a Freshmen All-American shortstop at FSU in 2006, Martin, on the advice of his son and assistant coach, Mike Martin Jr., made the decision to convert the strong-armed right-hander and middle-infielder into a catcher. Posey said at the time he couldn’t remember ever having played catcher even as a little-leaguer but he took to the position change like the proverbial fish to water.
Posey thrived at FSU, where he became a consensus all-American. Even after making the switch to catcher, he continued to be the Seminoles’ closer during his junior season, still flashing a 93-94 mph fastball with a “plus” slider and changeup.
His draft stock grew so substantially during his three years in Tallahassee, he was ultimately drafted by the Giants with fifth pick overall in the first round of the 2008 MLB amateur draft. He played all or parts of three seasons in the minors before getting a September call-up in 2009.
His first full big-league season provided the first of those "highs" when he earned National League Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI with an .862 OPS in 108 games. The Giants also won their first World Championship since the New York Giants won the 1954 World Series.
Posey's world came crashing down early in the 2011 season when he suffered a broken ankle in a collision at home plate and was limited to 45 games, the ultimate sophomore jinx. As soon as he was able, he began a rigorous rehabilitation program determined to be ready for the start of the 2012 season.
If there were doubters that he could come back at full strength, and there undoubtedly were, Posey certainly proved them wrong. He won his first batting title by hitting .336 and added 24 home runs, 39 doubles and 103 RBI in 148 games, and claimed not only the NL MVP Award but also the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. And better yet, the Giants won their second World Championship in three years.
In nine World Series games so far in his career, Posey has hit .286 with two home runs and five RBI. Most spectacularly, Posey has played in 31 postseason games and the Giants have won 24 of them. After falling to deepest part of the valley, he had reclaimed his spot at the top of the mountain.
"It's given me a lot of perspective about the game, knowing the game can be taken away from you at any point," Posey told PG when asked about the highs and lows of his first three big-league seasons. "You really have to enjoy it when you do have the opportunity to be out there playing against the best competition in the world. You have to go out there and enjoy it as much as you can."
In a recent interview with espn.com MLB Senior Writer Jerry Crasnick, Posey expounded on the 2011 season even more.
"I hate to keep going back to the injury, but it was a blessing in disguise in several ways," he told Crasnick. "You see that baseball's not the be-all and end-all. Everybody has a timeline on them, no matter how good you are.
"There's no question I want to be able to draw from that experience and remember it," he continued. "Hopefully I don't have to go through that again. But when it's August and I'm feeling a little bit tired, I know there's probably somebody who's on the shelf with an injury and wants to be out there. That's something I can use to my advantage."
Posey enjoyed terrific spring training camps in 2011 and 2012, hitting a combined .364 (32-for-88) with four home runs and 18 RBI in 35 games. It's been slow going through the early part of this camp, as he managed just three singles in his first 17 at-bats (.176) in eight games. Nothing can be read into that, of course, and Posey honestly feels the Giants' talented clubhouse is filled with enough horses to bring home a third World Championship in four years.
"I think we've got a group of guys that work hard, enjoys playing the game and enjoys playing together," he told PG last week. "As long as we keep our heads down and keep doing things the right way, we'll be all right."