READING, Pa. -- When his friends and relatives approach the ceremonial
mound on June 17 in Okmulgee, Okla. for their annual Creek Nation Stomp
Dance, American Indian son Keith Bucktrot may be standing on another mound
1,200 miles away pitching for the Reading Phillies.
The 23-year-old right hand pitcher from Claremore, Okla. who Baseball
America proclaimed is the fourth best major league prospect in the
Philadelphia Phillies minor league system said, "I really miss
participating in those [tribal] activities -- the traditional Native
American dress, the green corn dance, the singing, the stickball games.
They were a big and important part of my early years."
Bucktrot's relatives were among the Creek/Muskogee families who each were
deeded 160 acres by the government in 1906 -- and they will be remembered
and honored when the 30th annual festival focuses this year on "the
original allottees" during a week-long event that will be attended by more
than 20,000 participants and visitors.
At six feet, two inches and 200 pounds, Bucktrot is only five pounds
heavier than when the Phillies drafted him four years ago but he has added
a lot of muscle and looks more like a svelte football linebacker than a
His quick, welcoming smile -- especially when kids approach him for
autographs -- is atypical of his youth, when, he said, "I was a very shy
guy" ... except when he competed in sports events.
While some teams, including the Minnesota Twins, wanted to draft Bucktrot
as a potential four-tool outfielder (speed, defensive ability, a strong arm
and power hitting skills), Phillies scouts liked the way his fastball
darted and danced, and the tenacity and "bulldog mentality" they observed
when he played free safety and linebacker for the Claremore High School
His senior year pitching stats were impressive: eight wins, two saves,
three losses and a 1.91 earned run average (runs allowed per nine inning
"Good athlete with a get-it-done mentality and a lot of raw talent and
potential," read the notes of a baseball scout who was familiar with
Bucktrot's demeanor and work habits.
Today, Bucktrot is making those Phillies scouts look good as he continues
to rack up impressive pitching statistics in the Double-A Eastern League in
Northeastern Pennsylvania, 75 miles from his eventual goal -- Philadelphia.
In his first seven games at Reading this season -- prior to experiencing a
"tired arm" following a three inning "disaster" when his 94-mile-per-hour
fastball didn't zig or zag or go where it was intended -- Bucktrot had a 3
-- 1 won-lost record and a sparkling 2.79 ERA. Some people were even
talking about his eventual move up to the Phillies Triple-A team,
Scranton-Wilkes Barre, the last stop before the major leagues.
Keith has been basically "healthy" since arriving in the minors, although
he gave the Phillies a bit of a scare last October when he developed an
elbow twinge after reporting to the Arizona Fall League. The team sent him
"home" (he now lives in Tulsa) and he experienced no problems until the
recent tired arm.
"I'll be fine," he said matter-of-factly when asked about the prognosis for
his arm. "I expect to be back in the rotation in about a week." Two days
later, a Philadelphia orthopedist confirmed the accuracy of Keith's
Today, the "kid from Claremore" who received a $435,000 signing bonus from
the Phillies after he was the 75th person selected in the 2000 amateur
draft, is full of confidence, happy and optimistic. And why not? Teens and
adults ask for his autograph, he has baseball cards with his face and stats
on them -- including one that sells on e-Bay for $10 -- and an endorsement
contract that will begin to pay off when he wears a Rawlings glove while
standing on a major league pitching mound.
Quizzed about American Indian role models during his formative years,
Bucktrot said that while he is knowledgeable about Jim Thorpe -- the great
American Indian Olympian, pro football star and major league baseball
player who was arguably the greatest athlete of the past century, baseball
hall-of-famer Nolan Ryan (the greatest strikeout pitcher in history) was
his gold standard.
"I loved his attitude ... his mental toughness," he remembered. "My parents
[who both played fast-pitch softball] were inspirations, too ... especially
my mom. I was always driven to work hard because of her ... to do my best
... to excel ... to match her work ethic."
Bucktrot said he hopes to complete a college degree and become an
"entrepreneur" when his playing days are over.
Asked whether he considered himself a role model for American Indians,
especially children, Bucktrot (the product of a Creek/Euchee marriage)
answered quickly: "I would like to be. I've been blessed ... and I would
like to give something back to our people. Hopefully, by good example, I
can have an impact on the life of a young Native American child ... by
helping him or her realize that there are all sorts of possibilities out
there if you are determined and willing to really work for them. I really
want to get that message to them."