Felton Buxton is getting used to seeing people try to get a glimpse of his son, or wait in line for an autograph. But this was new — he has never seen fans put their health at risk before.
“There were people lined up outside in the cold,” the Georgia native and father of Twins prospect Byron Buxton said, shaking his head at the thought of fans who waited several hours in 30-degree weather before TwinsFest opened its doors Friday. “It’s freezing out there. That seems crazy.”
So is Buxton’s potential, though, not to mention the Twin Cities’ thirst for an end to the 96-loss seasons. All of which gives the 26th annual TwinsFest, which runs through Sunday, the feel of a coronation. Yes, Joe Mauer is still king of Target Field and the Twins’ most popular player. But Minnesota’s fan base appears eager to embrace the quiet outfielder from Baxley, Ga., as soon as possible.
“He’s our own Willie Mays,” said Jeff Stanton, a fan who waited in line for more than an hour to score a Buxton autograph on a Baseball America with the center fielder on the cover. “He’s going to be a star. He already looks like one. Seemed like a really nice guy.”
Not everybody got to find that out, though. Buxton signed autographs for an hour Friday, but the line to his suite still stretched almost from a foul pole to home plate, even when he finished. Perhaps two hundred Buxton boosters were turned away, many vowing to try again Saturday or Sunday.
“It’s remarkable how much interest there is in two guys who haven’t even gotten to Triple-A yet — and [Buxton] hasn’t even gotten to Double-A,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said. “We’ve seen our biggest prospects come to TwinsFest every year since 1989. I’ll never forget Torii Hunter when he came in, and we saw it with Joe Mauer, too.”
Buxton’s dad has seen it ever since his son was chosen second overall in the 2012 draft. “There were so many people coming down to Cedar Rapids from here. You can see how people are excited,” Felton Buxton said. He understands. He sees it too. “I think he’s going to do big things. He’s got the talent.”
He’s got some humility, too. Byron Buxton, named this week as mlb.com’s No. 1 prospect in the minor leagues, doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the attention. But he doesn’t take it too seriously, either.
“It’s nice. The people are really good here. But I know I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Buxton said. “I haven’t done anything yet. I’m still in the minors. I want to get here and help the Twins win.”
That probably won’t happen this year; Buxton is only 20 years old and hasn’t played above Class A Fort Myers yet. But there already is plenty of Buxton memorabilia for sale at TwinsFest, from photos to signed baseballs to minor league jerseys with Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids. (No Twins jerseys yet, though, mostly since the numbers Buxton has worn throughout his amateur and pro career — 7 and 3 — are already claimed in Minnesota by Mauer and Harmon Killebrew, and Buxton has stated no preference for a future number.)
The Twins invited Buxton’s family to the weekend events, too, so he is seeing the city with his father, mother and sister. And he’s getting used to Target Field, too, and meeting the current big leaguers. Buxton spent a while between obligations chatting with another former first-round pick, Aaron Hicks, for instance.
“One of the great things about this event is those future Twins,” St. Peter said. “So it’s a great way for us to immerse them in the culture and show them what it means to be a Twin. In this case, we get a chance to show them Target Field, too, which hopefully will be their home for a long time.”