Invigorated by a change in scenery, Michael Cuddyer doesn't lament leaving the only team he had ever known.
Toronto Blue Jays' Yunel Escobar, left, waits for the ball as Minnesota Twins' Michael Cuddyer gets caught stealing second base during fourth-inning MLB baseball game action in Toronto, Sunday, April 3, 2011. The Twins defeated the Blue Jays 4-3.
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. - Michael Cuddyer never wanted to leave the Twins, and for the most part, he doesn't really feel as if he did. It's the Twins who left him.
The team he knew and loved, the group he competed alongside since being drafted with the ninth overall pick in 1997, those Twins are mostly gone. The guys he grew up and came up with, the tight-knit core of ballplayers who bought homes, married wives and started families at roughly the same time over the past decade, they have all been replaced by younger faces.
"[Nick] Punto, [Matt] Guerrier, [Jesse] Crain, [Joe] Nathan, [Jason] Kubel. Torii [Hunter]. Those are the guys that I've been around my entire career, and those guys weren't there anymore," Cuddyer said over the weekend while wearing the jersey of his new employer, the Colorado Rockies. "The core I grew up with is gone. Obviously there are still some friends there, but it's a different clubhouse now. And that definitely was a factor in my decision."
Make no mistake, the biggest factor was the $31.5 million that the Rockies offered him to patrol right field for the next three years, considerably more, Cuddyer said, than the Twins' best offer. His preference was to stay in the Twin Cities, but as he waited in vain for an offer that would convince him to do so, he realized it was time to move on.
"I don't want to say I wasn't torn, because I was. But it never got to the point where I really had to choose," Cuddyer said. "At the same time, Colorado was aggressive in showing me they wanted me. They made moves to make it possible, and just had an excitement level that kind of won me over."
Maybe things would have been different, Cuddyer said, had the Twins' record in 2011 more closely paralleled their success during his previous seven seasons as a full-time player. But a 99-loss season might have made his goodbye inevitable.
"If I had to make a decision a week after the season was over, that would have been it right there. When you're getting beat like we were, it's hard to remain positive," he said.
The Twins thought they had their season turned around with a midsummer hot streak, but "then it took a drastic nosedive, and things just got really bad. There were things that snowballed, and we couldn't do anything to stop it.''
Cuddyer frowned and paused. He doesn't like to dwell on the negative, especially on what he diagnosed as "just a bad year, that's all. ... They'll be fine."
And so will he. Trading the American League for the National, the Grapefruit League for the Cactus, the pitching-and-defense Twins for the Blake-Street-Bomber Rockies, all of it is an exciting change. There will be new ballparks to learn, new pitchers to face and a new mile-high home for wife Claudia, son Casey and infant twin daughters Chloe and Madeline to get used to.
Denver feels a lot like Minneapolis, Cuddyer said, similarly sized cities that thrive on outdoor activity and have high expectations for their baseball team. Cuddyer, whose lone visit to Denver before this winter was during the Twins' three-game interleague series in May 2008, picked out a condo in an hour one morning before RockiesFest in January, "so I hope [Claudia] likes it."
He already likes his new life.
"It's been a big change, kind of rejuvenating. Not that things got mundane in Minnesota, I still played hard, but it's a new feel when you go into a new environment," he said. "I'm learning the guys. It takes time for a clubhouse to mesh, to build the trust and camaraderie. But I'm the same guy. I didn't change."
That includes his reputation as a clubhouse leader, an optimist who sold teammates on the value of working together. Only weeks into his new life, when he's still trying to learn everyone's names, the 32-year-old Virginian is already developing into a leader. Colorado was 79-83 last season but was above .500 the two years prior to that and also played in the 2007 World Series.
"You have to respect him, because he respects everybody," veteran reserve Jason Giambi said. "He keeps everyone loose -- he's already done some card tricks. And when it comes to the game, he's all business."
Added manager Jim Tracy: "He really gets it -- just the way he's come in and really embraced everyone immediately. He relaxes the atmosphere, he relaxes your thought process [and] makes it easier to just go out there and play the game. He's good at bringing people together."
Which is why it seems to nag at Cuddyer that he couldn't bring the 2011 Twins together.
"It bugs you, sure. Not just the errors but the mental mistakes. Guys being too comfortable, not being prepared," he said. "There was a little bit of a divide -- kind of a divided clubhouse, in the sense of the young guys vs. the old guys. It made it extremely difficult. But it's time to bounce back, [the Twins] and me both."
|Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Russell||4||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - WP: W. Rodriguez||5|
|Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer||5||FINAL|
|Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber||1|
|NY Yankees - LP: V. Nuno||2||FINAL|
|Baltimore - WP: J. Johnson||3|
|Tampa Bay - WP: A. Cobb||4||FINAL|
|Toronto - LP: R. Ortiz||3|
|Cincinnati - WP: M. Leake||4||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: J. Niese||0|
|Philadelphia - WP: T. Cloyd||7||FINAL|
|Miami - LP: D. Below||3|
|Minnesota - LP: B. Duensing||4||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: C. Kimbrel||5|
|Oakland - WP: D. Straily||1||FINAL|
|Texas - LP: Y. Darvish||0|
|Los Angeles - LP: Z. Greinke||2||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - WP: M. Fiers||5|
|Boston - LP: F. Doubront||1||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: J. Quintana||3|
|Kansas City - WP: B. Chen||7||FINAL|
|Houston - LP: P. Clemens||3|
|Arizona - LP: M. Reynolds||4||FINAL|
|Colorado - WP: W. Lopez||5|
|Seattle - LP: A. Harang||0||FINAL|
|LA Angels - WP: J. Williams||12|
|St. Louis - WP: A. Wainwright||10||FINAL|
|San Diego - LP: E. Volquez||2|
|Washington - LP: Y. Maya||2||FINAL|
|San Francisco - WP: J. Affeldt||4|