Sano finds himself imitating Buxton, and stealing bases. Buxton finds himself imitating Sano, and swinging for maximum distance.
“It’s about the only kind of baseball I can play right now,” Buxton says.
Even as they convalesce, their names cause scouts and Twins employees to perk up. For a franchise that has lost 90 or more games in three consecutive seasons, “Buxton and Sano” are the baseball equivalent of a double espresso.
This spring outfielder Jason Kubel, a longtime Twin recently cut by the team, said, “I never felt old and slow, until I saw Byron Buxton chase a fly ball.”
Fort Myers pitching coach Gary Lucas was with Buxton at low-Class A Cedar Rapids last year before joining the Miracle this year.
“This is frustrating for all of us, because as far as being good for the game, Byron Buxton would be a poster boy,” Lucas said. “He makes fans want to buy tickets. He’s like Mike Trout, or Torii Hunter, one of those people who have that extra energy and spunk that attracts people to the game.
“I remember all of the guys wanting to hang around him in Cedar Rapids. He brought energy every night. He made guys better, and that was indicated by some of the stats we put up there last year. Everybody was looking forward to his big test this year, and he hasn’t been able to take that test. But he will be really good for our sport.”
Mientkiewicz has managed for a season and a half in the minors, and he has managed Buxton and Sano. Sano even became close to his son, Steel.
“Yes, they will miss a year, but this will also add a year onto the back end of their careers because there’s no wear and tear from this year,” Mientkiewicz said. “There’s no reason these kids can’t come back better than they were before, after working on their legs and their core strength, and after realizing how much they miss the game.
“They both have the ability to be team leaders. Sano is more boisterous. Buck is getting there. He leads more by example. There were numerous times last year I was about to get on the team, and Sano beat me to it. Buck is more likely to give everyone hard high-fives and make sure all of his teammates are doing OK.
“I don’t miss the 30 homers and 100 RBI as much as I miss Sano holding his teammates accountable, and Buck does that, too. That’s great to see from two guys who — let’s be real — our organization is relying on. They’re both deserving of their reputations. Hopefully, they will become the players we believe they will be.”
The view from the stands
They sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the stands at Hammond Stadium, watching as the Miracle plays the Tampa Yankees.
Buxton, as long and lean as an NBA shooting guard, eats a hot dog. Sano, built like a young John Randle, the Hall of Fame Vikings defensive tackle, carries the conversation. They clap politely, and cautiously. “I’m not going to yell or anything,” Buxton said.
Sano does. He’ll walk up to the dugout and needle Mientkiewicz.
Both feel drawn to the games, but frustrated by their inactivity. Eventually, they wander through the gates, headed for PlayStation, where they can be the players they expect to be.
“We’ve become pretty close the last month,” Buxton said. “We go out to eat, watch a movie, go fishing, stuff that helps us relax and waste time.”
On an afternoon in early June, Buxton’s work is done. He’s planning to head home and watch his favorite show, “CSI.” Saying he has “no interest in that party life,” he usually goes to bed early.