The veteran who can play just about anywhere on defense could be the Twins' most clear-cut choice as an All-Star selection.
The last time choosing an All-Star from the Twins was a difficult task came in 2000, when American League manager Joe Torre threw a dart and it struck No. 50, as in Matt Lawton.
Over the past decade, the Twins have sent 11 players one or more times to the All-Star Game: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Francisco Liriano, Eddie Guardado, A.J. Pierzynski, Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Cristian Guzman.
Unlike with the post-Rod Carew Twins of the late '70s and into the '80s, and the post-Kirby Puckett Twins of the '90s, there was never a case of the All-Star Game's mercy rule being used to get a Minnesota player on the roster.
One month from today, the All-Star Game will be played in Phoenix, and there is no clear-cut choice to represent the lowly Twins of 2011. That is, no clear-cut choice unless you mention to manager Ron Gardenhire that the leader in the clubhouse appears to be Michael Cuddyer.
"Are you asking if Cuddyer should be our All-Star?" Gardenhire said. "For me, he's a lock. You could go to our pitching staff -- a couple of starters are throwing the heck out of the ball -- but if you ask me who should be there representing the Twins, it's Michael Cuddyer.
"I've been with the kid his whole career. And I've watched him go from a player where we used to say, 'Where are we going to put him?' to a guy where I can put him anywhere I want to, and just let him play."
Gardenhire paused. He smirked and said: "I did find out something I didn't know until the last road trip. He hates DH-ing. I used him there in Cleveland and he was asking the coaches, 'What's this?'
"I heard that he was upset, so I asked and he said, 'It's nothing. I hate DH-ing.'"
Cuddyer turned 32 on March 27. He played briefly for the Twins in 2001, played right field late in 2002 and in the playoffs, spent most of 2003 back in Class AAA and has been a full-timer with the Twins since 2004.
In that time, he has walked across the clubhouse to congratulate Mauer, Morneau, Nathan, Hunter, Santana and Liriano on their selections to the All-Star team.
"And I've thanked them every year for bringing me back a T-shirt from the game," Cuddyer said Saturday.
In mid-May, this did not look as though it could be the summer that Cuddyer was the Twin charged with retrieving those T-shirts.
"I didn't get my first RBI for close to three weeks," he said. "I've dug a few holes for myself in the past, but never one that deep."
Cuddyer's first RBI was a solo home run in his 18th game and on April 20. After his 34th game, on May 13, he was batting .234 with three solo home runs and five RBI.
Over 25 games since then, Cuddyer is batting .320 with five home runs and 18 RBI. On Saturday, he was 2-for-3 with a double and RBI in the Twins' 8-1 upset of Texas, lifting his key numbers to .271, eight home runs and 23 RBI.
Certainly, those aren't "look-at-me" numbers, but don't forget, a utility spot has been added to the All-Star rosters.
Cuddyer can play first, second or third bases, and wherever AL manager Ron Washington would need him in the outfield. That's about as utilitarian as a ballplayer can get -- especially for a big, strong lad of 6-2 and 220 pounds.
"You have to put the team thing ahead of any individual goals," Cuddyer said. "But if that were to somehow happen, and I would get to represent the Twins in that game, it would be one of the most unbelievable things I could imagine."
A few minutes earlier, the Twins had broken out a lineup that again looked like the western troupe of the Rochester Red Wings and slapped around Washington's Rangers.
"We don't care about the lineup, the other scores or the standings," Cuddyer said. "We're focused on one idea -- that it's more fun to come in the clubhouse after a win than a loss.
"And that's kind of working. The young guys are more relaxed -- they're just playing ball."
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • firstname.lastname@example.org
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