FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins and Yankees were still playing in the midnight hour last July 24 at Target Field when New York center fielder Aaron Hicks hustled toward left-center, dived and extended his glove to take away what would have been a winning three-run double by Max Kepler in the bottom of the 10th inning.
The Yankees won 14-12 in 5 hours, 3 minutes, and media declarations that Hicks had made “the catch of the year’’ still remain a Google away.
On Saturday, Twins center fielder Byron Buxton was answering a few questions from reporters, informal enough for him to be asked:
“That Hicks catch … you wouldn’t have had to dive, right?’’
Buxton smiled and said: “I don’t know. It was a good catch. I’m not out there, so I can’t really judge it. He went and got it.’’
Two years ago, Buxton came to spring training after batting .309 with power in his final 47 games of the Twins’ wild-card 2017 season. He had turned 24, and there was optimism he had been guided into a hitting approach that was going to work.
Exhibition games aren’t a time to reach conclusions, but there was some flailing going on from Buxton in March 2018 that was familiar. This was followed by a lost, injury- and illness-plagued season that gave more strength to doubts over future excellence for Buxton.
He went home for the winter, got off the leg-kick, no-leg-kick merry-go-round and he stated this again Saturday:
“I went back to what I was doing in high school … I took a step back last offseason and kind of found myself.’’
We saw him for 82 games in 2019, before a left shoulder injury on Aug. 1 that led to surgery, and we saw that found ballplayer.
Recovery continues, but there’s a perception he finally has gained the belief of the person most important to future stardom: himself.
If Buxton plays 140 games as he did those 82 games in 2019, this should be a ballclub that’s beyond good, since he’s the player who makes everybody on the field better (particularly pitchers).
As for that Hicks catch, Byron? On the run for you.
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More Buxton on Saturday:
• Recovery: “I know what I have to do to get back to being myself, and rushing is not one of them.”
• Now taking swings in soft toss: “Not being able to swing since September, being able to get a moving object back toward you, that’s fun …”
• We put men on the moon 51 years ago and MLB outfield fences remain dangerous: “I don’t think I’ll comment on that.’’