Alexis Busch, a batgirl in 2000 and 2001, was the only person to greet Barry Bonds after he hit his 500th home run against the Dodgers on April 17, 2001. Photo: Heidi Montoya, San Francisco Giants
From childhood, Alexis Busch had two extreme passions.
“Baseball and the Beatles,” her father, Corey Busch, said.
She grew up an avid fan of both. She knew about John, Paul, George and Ringo as much as Will, Matt and the two Willies. She made countless trips to Candlestick Park, her cathedral, and one pilgrimage to Liverpool.
No way in the world she would have missed the final event at Candlestick, which happens to be Thursday night’s Paul McCartney concert, a two-for-one bonanza if there ever was one.
Alexis Busch would have turned 29 Friday. Two and a half years after her death in a yachting race accident near the Farallon Islands, eight family members and close friends are attending the concert in her honor.
“What’s a more perfect way to celebrate her birthday than to hang out listening to Paul McCartney sing Beatles songs at the place she grew up?” asked Corey Busch.
I phoned Corey this week because I knew Alexis’ birthday was coming up, and he was thrilled to talk about his daughter, as always. Over time, he said, the tears have turned to smiles. It’s more about celebrating the date of Alexis’ birth than grieving over the date of her death.
It’s more about remembering her old-school baseball mentality and old-school appreciation for music – she’d say her favorite Beatles song was the last one she heard – than the tragic events of April 14, 2012, when five sailors were washed overboard by towering waves as their sailboat rounded the islands.
Alexis attended her first Giants game as an infant, played baseball with the boys in Marin County’s Ross Valley Little League and served as a Giants batgirl in 2000 and 2001, the only person to greet Barry Bonds at home plate after his 500th home run.
She got that gig as a 15th birthday present, but it was supposed to be just one game. Corey Busch was in former owner Bob Lurie‘s front office, the executive vice president, employed by the team through 1992. Like countless others, he had a warm relationship with Dusty Baker and asked the manager if she could work as a batgirl for a day.
Baker said yes.
The Giants won the game and asked her back for another. She fit in so well that she stuck around. It was the first year at Pacific Bell Park, and Alexis suddenly was part of the facility’s developing character. Record numbers of females in the stands, a woman as the public-address announcer, a girl in the dugout.
“I remember going out to the field early one day and she was out there shagging,” Corey Busch said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. My little girl’s out there, and they’re hitting the ball hard.’ It didn’t faze her. She wore the love of the game on her sleeve.”
While in uniform, Alexis wasn’t afraid to tell players what she felt. Bonds, for instance. When she was nearing her 16th birthday, Bonds asked what she wanted. A bat? A glove? Cleats?
“You know what I really want?’ she said, recalled her father. “I really want you to wear your pants like a baseball player, up around the knee.”
Bonds didn’t. But that was Alexis.
“I don’t know if the players knew what to expect,” Corey Busch said. “No. 1, she was not a greenfly. No. 2, she could dish it out as well as she could take it. So she fit right in. It can be a pretty intimidating environment down there.”
As it turned out, Bonds took her under his wing and talked baseball and life. She took to his son, Nikolai, who was several years younger. At her memorial, Bonds said she seemed like a younger sister to the players, adding, “Alexis made us feel at ease.”
Bonds’ teammates didn’t bother to greet him at the plate after his 500th homer (they did after his record 71st later in the season), leaving the duty to Alexis, who picked up his bat and offered a fist bump. An image for the ages, on so many levels.
“She was very humble about that whole experience,” Corey Busch said. “She would talk about it but never bragged about it.”
Later, Alexis served as a batgirl for Baker’s Cubs for a game at Dodger Stadium. She played in women’s hardball leagues in the United States and Australia.
She always dreamed of visiting Liverpool. In December 2011, she did. It was Christmastime, and she played the tourist with family and friends. Visited Penny Lane. Strawberry Field. The childhood homes of the Fab Four.
Four months later, Alexis, her longtime boyfriend Nick Vos and six others – all experienced sailors – formed the crew of the 38-foot Low Speed Chase in the Full Crew Farallones Race, which took boats on a course through the Golden Gate, around the islands and back to San Francisco.
The yacht was near the islands when it was hit by a wave, then another, sending most of the crew over the side. Boat owner James Bradford and Vos were among three survivors.
In December 2012, Corey Busch filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Bradford in San Francisco Superior Court, seeking unspecified damages. Attorney Michael Kelly was quoted as saying the Busch family “wants to make sure that something like this would never happen again, that people need to abide by the rules.”
Bradford filed papers in federal court denying liability for any damages. The trial date was pushed back twice and rescheduled for early next year. Corey Busch would not speak on the pending case.
On Alexis, he said, “We just miss her. A lot of people do. For me, baseball season’s still difficult without her. There are still times I reach for my phone to text her. We’d do that all the time watching games. Intellectually, you’d think if time goes by you’d get used to her being gone. That’s not the case. I think about her all the time.”