If the small battalion of former Twins gathering at the All-Star game had a symbolic team captain, it would be Michael Cuddyer.
He was the Twins’ first-round pick in 1997, when they were buried at the bottom of the American League.
He debuted in the majors in 2001, when the Twins ended a streak of eight consecutive losing seasons.
He became a regular at the end of 2002, when the Twins made their first playoff season since 1991, and became the kind of I’ll-play-any-position, run-into-any-wall ballplayer the Twins liked to believe they raised in bunches.
His Twins career bracketed the franchise renaissance, and when the losing started and the clubhouse changed from boisterous to funereal, he bolted to Colorado in free agency, leaving behind a corner locker and an organization that thought he might graduate directly from the field to the front office or broadcast booth.
Asked this week what he thought of so many former Twins joining him at Citi Field for the All-Star Game, Cuddyer opted for diplomacy. “I think the thing that jumps off my head is that for about a decade straight the Twins’ player development people were doing a lot of things right,” he said. “To be able to develop all of those All-Stars, that’s something the organization should be proud of. And the fan base, even though these guys are no longer on the team, still got to watch them play a lot of games.”
The Twins are sending two of their own to the All-Star Game, in Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins. They can claim eight other alumni: Cuddyer, Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain, Carlos Gomez, Joe Nathan, David Ortiz, J.J. Hardy and Torii Hunter, all of whom have thrived after leaving behind Twinstripes. Oakland’s Balfour was added to the AL roster Sunday.
This season Cuddyer put together a 27-game hitting streak, almost double his previous best and a remarkable achievement for someone with a .274 career batting average. He is hitting .330 with a .391 on-base percentage and a .572 slugging percentage, all of which would easily be career bests.
He will even participate in the Home Run Derby on Monday, partly because Mets third baseman David Wright, his buddy from Virginia, picked the team.
“Leaving the Twins, it’s a mixed bag of emotions,” Cuddyer said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I had so many friends in the organization, so many friends in the media, so many friends outside the organization in the Twin Cities with the fans and charities we were involved in, it was hard to leave.
“You go to another organization and try to establish relationships, and nobody knows who you are. My first year here, we had a bad year as a team, and I got hurt the last two months, and you don’t get to show the fans who you are, and how you can help the team. It was a frustrating and trying year, but it was easy to wipe it away and treat it as an anomaly.”
His hitting streak was a pleasant anomaly.
“It definitely surprised me, no question,” he said. “I’ve been in the big leagues for 12 years and my longest previous hitting streak was like 15 games. It was fun. I was basically riding the wave, and putting together good at-bats and getting some luck.”
Cuddyer has never believed in baseball superstition, but as the streak grew, he quit shaving. “Justin Morneau texted me, saying the beard was looking a little gray,” Cuddyer said. “I didn’t get a haircut either.”
Cuddyer got a hit in every Rockies game for about a month, and wound up one game shy of making it halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record. “There was no reason to feel pressure during the streak,” Cuddyer said. “The way I looked at it, Joe D’s record was unbreakable. Nobody was going to reach it or come close in my opinion, so what am I worried about jinxing?”
A lot of former Twins have been enjoying themselves this season. This week, a bunch of them can hold a reunion, if they can find a room in New York that big.