KANSAS CITY, MO. – It’s not too often that current Twins players can say they played alongside a legend, even if Sam Fuld held that status for just a few months in 2011.
This was the man who shook up baseball with so many spectacular catches and big offensive games for Tampa Bay that year that the Rays scheduled a Sam Fuld Superhero Cape giveaway after watching him play for two weeks.
Do you have any capes left, Sam?
“Oh man, I’m running dry,” Fuld said during a telephone interview Sunday, the day the Twins claimed the 32-year-old outfielder off waivers from Oakland. “I might have a couple stowed away in the garage. People are asking for them and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, they are all gone.’ I don’t know how many families still have them in their house.”
Fuld is expected to be in uniform at his old stadium Tuesday when the Twins open a three-game series at Tampa Bay. The Twins wouldn’t mind seeing him revisit his Super Sam persona a few times, as they need someone to play all three outfield spots and perhaps give Aaron Hicks a break in center.
Tampa Bay is where Fuld had many of his finest moments as a major leaguer. Thrust into a starting role when Manny Ramirez abruptly retired right before the 2011 season began, Fuld began diving all over the field and becoming a fan favorite.
On April 11 of that year, he went 4-for-6 in a 16-5 victory at Boston and blew a chance for a cycle by running out a double in his final at-bat when all he needed was a single. He went 5-for-9 in back-to-back victories over the Twins a few days later. On April 18, he went 4-for-4 against the White Sox to raise his average to .396.
His hitting tailed off — he finished with a .240 batting average that year — but the diving catches and filthy uniforms never stopped.
A closer look at Fuld reveals a rather interesting fellow. He grew up in New Hampshire as a big Red Sox Fan. His father, Kenneth Fuld, is dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire. His mother, Amanda Merrill, was a New Hampshire state senator from 2008 to 2012. Sam Fuld studied economics at Stanford, is a Type-1 diabetic and served as an intern at STATS Inc. He was the most interesting man in baseball for those first few months of the 2011 season.
“It was a good month where I never got a chance to catch my breath,” Fuld said. “It came out of nowhere. It was overwhelming and, looking back on it, it was too much in a short time span.”
What has foiled Fuld in the majors is hitting his way on base. He hit .255 in 40 games in 2012. Last year, he batted .199 in 119 games. The Rays declined to bring him back after last season, leading him to the Athletics, who designated him for assignment April 12. Fuld remained in the Bay Area while awaiting his fate, reaching out to fans on Twitter for advice on where he could work out. It was hard for him to watch baseball during his idle time.
“It has been stressful enough, sitting here and twiddling my thumbs,” said Fuld, a .233 hitter over seven major league seasons. “My three little kids keep me busy enough. Finding places to work out and stay in shape and the whole process has been really odd, especially when it lasts eight or nine days.”
At his age, Fuld knows he is on the downside of his career and will jump at any chance to remain in the majors. The Twins likely will use him as a defensive replacement, pinch runner and occasional starter. The Twins spoke with Fuld’s agent, Jim Munsey, during the offseason but never offered a contract because they couldn’t assure him a good shot at making the club. But they needed an outfielder after losing Alex Presley off waivers to Houston at the end of spring training and designating Darin Mastroianni for assignment on Sunday.
“I’m excited about it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He steals bases. He has no fear. That’s the kind of player we’re looking for.”
Fuld gets to visit with some old teammates this week at Tropicana Field. But it’s with the Twins where the next chapter of his career will … un-Fuld.
“I’m accustomed to this sort of thing, grinding it out, grinding it out,” he said. “Especially when it gets towards the end. There’s no way of knowing how long I’m going to play, it’s definitely heading in that direction my last couple of years.
“You learn to appreciate every opportunity you get the closer you get to the end.”