The Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat, located behind home plate at Kauffman Stadium, home to the Kansas City Royals, is the only red seat in the stadium as it was purposefully made to stand out from the rest of the blue chairs.
The chair has resided at Kauffman since 2002, in memory of legendary baseball player John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, who played in the Negro League for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1938 to 1947. Historians say Buck O’Neil was a standout person on and off the baseball diamond.
Known for his charitable work, Buck O’Neil was known to be an honorable individual, which is why the Royals, “…fill "Buck's Seat" for every home game with a member of the community who, on a large or small scale, embodies an aspect of Buck's spirit.”
During his time as a scout for the Royals, O’Neil would use the same seat every game, which is why this chair has been singled out.
Those individuals who are selected to sit in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat are also standouts in their own way, as they are nominated by people from their own neighborhoods for their charitable service work they have done to improve their hometowns and communities.
So it’s easy to see that those who are chosen to sit in this chair are special individuals. Former Kansas Representative Dave Heinemann is one of those special people.
Heinemann, a native of Garden City, was selected to sit in the Buck O’Neil Legacy earlier in July (the 18th) during a Royals home game.
Heinemann was elected as a State Representative for Garden City at the age of 22 in 1969.
“I got elected in 1969 for the Kansas House," Heinemann said in a telephone interview recently. "I was in grad school at Kansas University for International Relations and did the logical thing and ran for the state legislature. Never thinking I'd go to school again, I finally ended up getting a law degree. It totally changed my life.”
Heinemann is known for much more than being a state representative. His reputation for community service work has followed him everywhere he has lived. Knowing that people take notice in your community work, while not looking for anything in return, can be a life-altering experience.
“You’re sitting there and everyone is applauding and it is really a most humbling experience,” said Heinemann.
“(I feel) grateful. People actually care enough,” continued Heinemann. “There was a gentleman who was sitting behind me, and firs thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are! They get over 1,600 applicants a year and to be part of 30-50 a year is a great honor.’”
Although Heinemann has been given dozens of awards, and has been recognized for his community work before, there was something special about being asked to sit in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat.
“The amazing thing about this is that is I’ve gotten tons of awards throughout my life, like outstanding young Kansas and Public Official of the Year and stuff like that," Heinemann said. "There are 30,000 seats and this is the only one that is red. It’s humbling. You don’t campaign for this. It came out of the blue. They said, ‘Hey! We want to congratulate you!” said Heinemann when contacted by the Royals organization.
The community service work for Heinemann has stretched back to his days living in Garden City. Then, Heinemann was a part or advised on many local boards which included Community Day Care Center, Southwest Developmental Services, March of Dimes, and the Community Vision Now Leadership, among many others.
“I was able to get a grant in (Garden City) for the mental health center one time that dealt with preschool children and their families that was the only one in the state,” said Heinemann.
After 27 years in the state legislature, Heinemann left to become General Counsel and later the Executive Director of the Kansas Corporation Commission. This ended his time in Garden and he made the move to Topeka in 1995.
For the past 10 years, Heinemann has served as a director and officer on the board of the Kansas Guardianship Program, where they recruit volunteers to serve as guardians or conservators for adults who can manage their lives and financial affairs and who do not have immediate family who can help. He has now organized more than 800 volunteers to assist more than 1,400 persons.
Out of all of his charity work, Heinemann is probably best known for his Special Olympics Shrimp Peel, which started 34 years ago when he was the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Kansas House of Representatives. The shrimp peel raises money for the Kansas Special Olympics, which 100 percent of the funds generated go directly to the Special Olympics.
According to the Special Olympics and Heinemann, the Shrimp Peel has raised over $900,000 during its 34-year existence.
“I chose the Special Olympics, because if I picked any other charity it wouldn't have succeeded as well as it did,” said Heinemann about his charity event. “The people who attend and help at these events are the neatest in the world. If our politicians cared as much as they do, we’d be in better hands.”
The experience at the game was a once in a life time event for Heinemann. He had no idea that he was going to be going to a Royals game, let alone sitting in the legendary Buck O’Neil seat.
“I got an email that basically said, ‘Congratulations you have been selected to sit in the Buck O’Neil Legacy seat (in an upcoming game this season. Please let me know if you’re interested and we’ll start working on a date,” said Heinemann of the email.
He continued, “When you get there you get your seat and you’re first greeted with a couple of their cheerleaders and they introduce you with a plaque. Then they explain to you that the Royals’ camera people will be there two separate occasions early on.”
The amount of people who reached out to Heinemann after the game really surprised him.
“I was blown away by the people around the state who saw (the special video presentation) and contacted me afterwards," Heinemann said.
“Yesterday, I went to the store to get some stuff and as I was walking in, this gal who was pushing out a cart said, 'I saw you at the Royals game the other day!'"
Heinemann did come clean, though. He hasn’t always been the biggest baseball fan, “Up until three years ago, I could have cared less for baseball. I got suckered in the year before they won the World Series. I now have an account to buy tickets. Now I watch them all the time.”
He now proudly represents the Royals all the time, “I’m wearing their T-shirt right now!”
He even credits Garden City people for getting him hooked on the Royals.
“With the Garden City connection, and so many Garden City folks around, I started watching and I got hooked a little bit," Heinemann said.
Although Heinemann might currently live in Topeka, he never forgets about his first home. When asked if he still had any memories of Garden City, Heinemann responded, “Lots. Lots. I still feel like I’m from Garden City. Garden City is still me and home.
“Garden City is a unique community that made me what I am."
Inducted into the Garden City High School Hall of Fame in 1994, Heinemann sees Garden City as a place that can set an example for the rest of the state.
“Garden City to me, has been one of the most progressive communities in the state of Kansas and the rest of the state could learn," he said. “Particularly with our diversity and how the community and the community leaders have understood the power of all the different groups and how you work with them.”
It was obviously a huge honor to have been nominated to sit in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat for Heinemann, but that’s not why he did it.
“It’s what we all should be doing stuff like this in our own ways. There are so many different ways to do things,” said the former representative.
When asked about why he does all the charitable work he does, Heinemann stated, “Why do we need a reason? This is just doing something that you're supposed to be doing. It’s the right thing to do and it makes you feel good for all the right reasons.”
Heinemann parted with some words of wisdom, — “My wealth has always been my friends and you have more friends when you’re giving and not expecting something in return. I suppose that’s why this (Buck) O’Neil seat is so neat. You don’t campaign or apply for it. It just happens. It’s kind of like the Garden City Hall of Fame, It’s a neat thank you. People aren't going to remember who you were, but you know what you do.”