ADVERTISEMENT

Michael Cuddyer.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

Tigers lefthander Brad Thomas.

Charlie Neibergall, AP

Fortune, Cuddyer kept former Twin off Flight 11

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • September 11, 2011 - 1:45 AM

DETROIT - Michael Cuddyer doesn't consider himself a lifesaver, even if that's what former Twins teammate Brad Thomas calls him.

Cuddyer figures thousands of people probably have similar stories, involving twists of fate, from Sept. 11, 2001.

But the bottom line is this: Thomas, a lefthanded pitcher from Sydney, Australia, and his wife, Kylie, had tickets booked on American Airlines Flight 11, which took off from Boston and was headed for Los Angeles before crashing into the World Trade Center.

They didn't take that flight because Brad Thomas had more baseball to play before heading home to Australia. Class AA New Britain had made a dramatic run to the Eastern League finals, keyed by two late-inning Cuddyer home runs in the semifinals.

"Michael pretty much saved our lives singlehandedly by knocking in the winning runs in the last of the playoff games that took us to the next round," Thomas told FSNorth.com this week.

Thomas, now a Tigers pitcher, was Cuddyer's first roommate in professional baseball, in 1997. They played parts of the next seven seasons together, climbing through the Twins minor league system.

"He credits me for saving his life," Cuddyer said Saturday. "I mean, I don't know about that. It was just a twist of fate."

It's common for minor leaguers to book trips home before season's end and then change the reservations if necessary. Thomas and his then-girlfriend were scheduled to fly from Boston to Sydney via Los Angeles on Sept. 11.

But in Game 1 of the semifinals against Norwich, Conn., Cuddyer hit a two-run, ninth-inning homer to secure a 3-2 victory. In Game 4, he hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning, leading to a clinching celebration that night, Sept. 8, for the Rock Cats.

As Cuddyer wrote in this week's column for FoxSports.com, "Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 was supposed to be a big day in Rock Cats history."

They were set to open the Eastern League finals against Reading, Pa., that night. Cuddyer was scheduled to be a guest DJ on a New Britain radio station. He awoke that morning to a call from the producer, telling him not to come to the studio and saying he should probably turn on his TV.

New Britain manager Stan Cliburn gathered players at the stadium. The championship series was on hold and would never be played, not that anybody cared, under the circumstances. In that meeting, Thomas told his teammates he was supposed to be on Flight 11.

"It was more numbness," Cuddyer said, explaining his reaction. "I'm sure the whole country was like that as well. You're just numb to all the events and everything that transpired after that."

Thomas is on the 60-day disabled list because of an elbow injury, so he's not at Comerica Park this weekend, as the world marks the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

The Twins are back in Detroit, just as they were on Sept. 11, 2001. Baseball postponed play that week, so after waiting for a few days in their Dearborn, Mich., hotel, the Twins boarded three buses back to the Twin Cities.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was the third-base coach then. He and his wife, Carol, woke up that morning 10 years ago excited to call their son, Toby, to wish him a happy birthday.

"He said, 'Have you guys seen what's going on? You need to turn on the TV,' " Gardenhire said. "It was one of those sad, sad days. It was a miserable feeling."

Cuddyer received his first big league promotion on Sept. 15, 2001. He drove from New Britain to Minneapolis, full of conflicted emotions -- excited about his career and relieved for his friend, but devastated for this country.

© 2014 Star Tribune