That Jason Buterbaugh became this week’s Then and Now subject was sheer happenstance, precipitated by a chance meeting at Painted Hills Golf Course.
Buterbaugh was a starter on West Valley’s 1992 State 3A third-place basketball team and in town to visit with family. He hit ’em long at Painted Hills, consistently driving to the red 100-yard stakes and beyond. His wit and that of his grandfather, Don Ceye, made for a delightful round and led to this story.
Golf has become a sporting substitute for basketball for the 6-foot-5 ex-Eagle. Buterbaugh hung up his shoes after a brief injury-plagued fling at Wenatchee Valley Community College.
“I decided basketball was not really in my future and went to work,” Buterbaugh said.
These days he is a cement mason living in Brooklyn with his wife, Alice, and young daughter Grace. He arrived in New York shortly following 9/11 after spending several years in Alaska and said that he poured concrete for both the new Yankee Stadium – “500,000 square feet, which is quite a bit” – and Citi Field, home of the Mets.
“I never envisioned this career in life,” Buterbaugh said after we made connection a few days later (and he’d played another round at Esmeralda). “I always envisioned myself coaching one day.”
Buterbaugh played an inside role as a near-double figures scorer on a West Valley team that could well be the best in school history. The Eagles went 23-4 and came within a hairs-breadth of playing against 6-foot-9 Mark Hendrickson’s unbeaten Mount Vernon team for the state title. They lost in the semifinals 54-52 to Shorecrest, missing the opportunity on a controversial traveling call to perhaps tie or even win. Hendrickson went on to play at Washington State and is currently pitching in the major leagues.
“I’m not one to whine about the past,” Buterbaugh said, “but we were on the low end of that call. Still, in my fantasy baseball league, I always draft Hendrickson. I’d looked forward to playing that guy the whole tournament.”
The Eagles were self-proclaimed gym rats, many, scoring leader and two-time state high jump champion Mark Munns among them, still playing and excelling in high-end recreational leagues.
“We had a lot of fun,” Buterbaugh recalled. “We were a close-knit team that always knew somebody had your back.”
Buterbaugh said his first recollection about basketball was being asked on a weekend visit to his father if he wanted to play basketball or go to church. He learned how to play post near the home at Edgecliff Park against ex-Ferris player Chris Dorsh and, other than his dad, was influenced most by then-WV coach Joe Feist.
“He taught me a lot of things about life in general,” Buterbaugh recalled. “I can’t tell you how many times he kicked me out of the gym. I’m sorry I lost touch with him.”
Buterbaugh went off to Wenatchee Valley and tore a wrist ligament, ending his career. He worked in Spokane for awhile and moved to Alaska in 1998, landing in Wasilla.
“Friends say I met Sarah Palin, but I have no recollection,” Buterbaugh said. “It’s my claim to fame, I guess, but I don’t know if I’d yell that too loud.”
He learned of the 2001 World Trade Center collapse from a girlfriend who was in New York, moved there in November and after a brief return to Alaska realized the economic possibilities of living in the Big Apple. He said he works as a general foreman for two companies on Port Authority projects. They have a three-year job lined up renovating the George Washington Bridge.
Buterbaugh lives in Bay Ridge, seven miles from Manhattan, and said he’s only eight blocks away from Dyker Beach golf course, where Earl Woods, Tiger’s dad, learned to play. He said he has played Bethpage Black, site of this year’s U.S. Open.
“It’s an evil, evil place,” Buterbaugh quipped. “I went back a second time – I’m a glutton for punishment – to make sure I am that horrible.”
Buterbaugh said he has been playing seriously for about 14 years and like all golfers has good days and bad. He had showed up at Painted Hills with his grandfather initially to use the driving range, but the pair decided to golf and joined my wife and me at our behest. It reconnected athlete and sportswriter after 17 years.
He can’t say what’s in his future, but is enjoying New York even if not enamored of the school system his 2 ½ year old daughter will one day attend.
“If I had to decide now I’d say I will end up somewhere else, especially being the traveling kind of guy I am,” Buterbaugh said. “But I have a beautiful wife and lovely daughter and can’t imagine life without them. There’s work (in New York) and I can’t imagine a better place to be.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.