Longtime Mavericks coach Bus Bergman dies at 89
Walter “Bus” Bergman talked baseball all his life.
“He was pretty cute. He told me, ‘I don’t know if I touched all the bases,’ ” his son, Walt, said of one of the last talks he had with his father, the longtime baseball and football coach at Mesa College, who died Sunday morning.
“He was a pitcher in baseball, that was his position, and when he knew he was on his way, he said, ‘I hope they let me hit.’ “
Bus Bergman, 89, was one of the men responsible for bringing the Junior College World Series to Grand Junction in 1959.
“He was in the original meeting of the five that put it together,” Walt Bergman said. “He had the original idea to bring it here, but he never took credit for it. Sam (Suplizio) used to say, ‘Bus, see what you started?’ “
Other survivors of Bergman include his wife, Elinor; two daughters, former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton and Judy Black; one son, Walt; six grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and his half-brother, Bill Noxon. Services are pending.
Walt Bergman is now JUCO’s director of tournament play, the same position his father had when the tournament began. They are the only father-son duo in the Junior College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.
It’s one of six halls of fame in which Bus Bergman has been enshrined: JUCO, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and those at Mesa State, Fort Lewis College and Colorado State University and North High School in Denver.
Bergman got his nickname when he was a youngster from a cartoon character named Buster.
“It stuck,” Walt Bergman said. “When he was playing football at 6 (feet) 2, 230 pounds as a running back, they said it was like tackling a bus.”
He coached football at Fort Lewis, then was hired to coach football and baseball at Mesa, moving to Grand Junction in 1950.
Nine years later, he took the Mavericks to the first Junior College World Series played in Grand Junction.
It was one of 13 appearances in the tournament by the Mavericks, who reached the championship game three times in Bergman’s tenure and won 20 conference titles.
He was selected the bench coach on JUCO’s Golden Anniversary team in 2007.
The athletic fields at Mesa State, including the baseball practice field and softball stadium, were named for Bergman in 1986.
He coached baseball for 23 years and football for 16 at Mesa, winning more than 100 football games and more than 1,000 baseball games as the coach at Mesa and the Grand Junction Eagles semipro team.
“I really got to know the guy, and he was first-class all the way,” said Dan MacKendrick, who was Bergman’s assistant coach for 11 years. “When you know him, your life has been enhanced for sure.
“I never heard a player say a derogatory thing about Bus.”
Jamie Hamilton, tournament chairman of the JUCO World Series, played for Bergman in 1976, Bergman’s final season.
“I learned baseball from him,” Hamilton said. “I was always elevated by my coaches, always respected them, but I was truly elevated when I was at his house and walked by a picture of him with his Bronze Star. He had never said anything about it. ... I’m sure it impacted his life and he used it to motivate his life.”
Known for his wit, Bergman didn’t come off as a real X’s and O’s type of coach.
“He was the old guard, pretty simple,” Hamilton said. “Put the bats out and the ball on the mound and go play, but when we needed to manipulate a run, you could see his mind working.”
MacKendrick agreed, laughing as he recalled stories about road trips with Bergman.
“You had to be ready for anything with him,” MacKendrick said. “He was so nonchalant sitting in the dugout, you’d think he wasn’t paying attention and you were wondering if he was awake.
“Then you’d say something and he’d say, ‘Yeah, but he shoulda done this or that.’ He was two steps ahead of everybody in the dugout.”
Hamilton just returned from an NJCAA meeting in Colorado Springs, where he talked about Bergman and what he meant to the JUCO World Series.
“He was an amazing guy,” Hamilton said. “I’m humbled to go to Colorado Springs and sing the praises of JUCO and Grand Junction because of Coach Bergman teaching me about baseball and teaching me about life.”