At 6 feet, 6 inches tall, Ty Buttrey stands well over his grandmother, Valley City’s Jacquette “Ketta” Stricklin.
Side by side, Ketta’s head hardly reaches her grandson’s shoulder.
“He didn’t get the height from me,” she jokes.
His response is more matter-of-fact.
“I got the athletic ability from you,” he quickly responds.
Buttrey, who graduated from high school earlier this month in North Carolina, was ranked by Baseball America as the #38 prospect in the Major League Baseball draft, which took place earlier this month.
He recently signed with the Boston Red Sox after being drafted with the 151st pick.
With the Red Sox’s permission, Buttrey was in Valley City over the weekend to help celebrate both his grand mother’s retirement from driving school busses and her 85th birthday.
Though his future could be at Fenway Park, he credits his grandmother with helping develop some of his athletic roots.
When she was younger, Ketta was a key player in local athletics and helped the Valley City Rockets women’s softball team win a state championship in 1951.
‘As good as
most of the boys’
Ketta came from humble roots on a farm in the town of Cuba in southeastern Barnes County.
The granddaughter of a Civil War veteran, she was born in 1927. Although her two sisters preferred helping with housework, which was more the norm of the time, Ketta thrived on activities outside the home.
“My two sisters were interested in housework, but I would sit and work with my dad outside,” she said.
Ketta would play catch with her father and even found ways to practice by herself.
“I would be out on the farm and in those days, we couldn’t afford softballs or anything like that, but there would be a lot of stones and rocks and we had greeneries,” she said. “I would pick up the stones and rocks and aim for a spot on the green, and that’s how it all started.”
The school in Cuba had a basement that Ketta said wasn’t much bigger than the garage in her back yard, but was a luxury that allowed her and her classmates to play basketball throughout grade school.
“We were very fortunate to have that,” she said.
In the warmer months, she would join the 4H club for baseball and softball games and had no problem playing with either gender.
“I was the only girl that played on the little boys team,” she said. “It was nothing unusual, but I was just one of those that liked it. Same way with softball. We would go to a 4H thing and I would pitch on the girls team, and if I could work it out, I was the catcher for the boys softball team.
“I really don’t mean to toot my horn, but I was as good as most of the boys I played with and they wanted to win, so that’s how it went.”
‘It was still fun to beat Jamestown’
When it came time for high school, Ketta moved to Valley City where she lived with an aunt and uncle for a year. For her and the many kids that moved from the country to the city, the transition provided some culture shock as she learned to live with running water and electricity.
At age 14, she was on her own in an apartment where she did all of her cooking on a hot plate. She was involved in athletics all through high school and later attended what was then State Teachers College in Valley City.
“I liked sports,” she said. “I just liked it and enjoyed it.”
At the school, she continued her involvement in both softball and basketball, which was still played as a game with different sets of players on both the offensive and defensive ends. The defenders could not go into the offensive end of the court or vice versa.
Though basketball’s rules were different, the rivalry was the same — Jamestown.
“We could go to Jamestown, to the college, but we could not keep score. The women were not allowed to keep score because...”
She paused, thinking.
“I don’t know what that was. That wasn’t a lot of fun, but it was still fun to beat Jamestown.”
While she attended college, she said she was the first female referee for a girls Barnes County Basketball Tournament.
Her softball career hit a high point in 1951 when the Valley City Rockets won the state women’s softball championship in Fargo. Ketta said the team didn’t have enough players able to go to the national tournament, although she instead attended the tournament with a team from the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The feat was recognized by several newspapers at the time, including the Valley City Times-Record, and a photo of the team is still located at the City Auditorium.
‘It was sports’
After college, Ketta eventually moved out east. She played basketball for a short time in Syracuse, N.Y. There was one game she fondly remembers where she scored all 27 point of her team’s points in one game.
She eventually settled down in Detroit, Michigan, where she met her husband, Bob, while working for General Motors.
Similar to Ketta, Bob was an athlete. He was roughly six-and-a-half-feet tall and spent time in the New York Yankees’ farm system, Ketta said, before he threw out his arm.
When the couple met, he played on a semi-professional football team in the Detroit area.
Ketta said the two had a common bond because of their interest in sports.
“You understand each other and you understand that sports are just a part of you,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of people that don’t understand that. I don’t think my mother understood that.”
The two raised their children in the area until Bob passed away in the 1970s, which prompted Ketta and her children to later return to North Dakota.
After her husband passed, she took up work as a furniture stripper and a school bus driver, the former of which has given her plenty of comedic timing for class reunions.
“When I came back from living out in Michigan and being around a little bit, we all had to get up and say what you’d been doing,” Ketta said. “I got up and I was talking and I said, ‘And then my husband died and I became a stripper.”
Her classmates responded, predictably, with a confused silence.
“They looked at me and nobody wanted to say ‘I don’t believe you,’ so then I said ‘Furniture.’”
Even Saturday, when she used the same comment and the same timing, she momentarily left her grandson, a reporter, and several other family members stunned until she delivered the punchline.
She started driving busses locally in 1984 and continued until last May. Even last weekend, she used a bus to drive her family to Chautauqua Park for her retirement and birthday party.
“When I first came back I did a lot of activity runs,” she said. “It was sports and I enjoyed doing that.”
After years of competition, Ketta will tell you at least one thing about being an athlete — it’s not for everybody.
“I feel that there are people that could never be an athlete,” she said. “You’ve got to like it and like doing it.
She cites the hard road that she has had to follow and one that her grandson is starting to take in.
June 13, the day after Buttrey graduated high school, he had to report to Fort Meyers, Fla., to start work with the Red Sox.
So far, it’s a process that he’s enjoying.
“You wake up in the morning, and you eat, you run, you throw and then you’ve got a game,” Buttrey said. “I love baseball and that’s my job, so it worked out.”
Although Buttrey wouldn’t be the first major league player with North Dakota ties, the accomplishments of her grandson are enough to leave a grandmother beaming.
“Who would have ever thought that a grand mother in North Dakota would have a grandson that was signed by the major leagues?”