KANSAS CITY, MO. – Byron Buxton is wearing bright orange Nike cleats this season to honor his sons, his wife, his parents and his Georgia hometown.
And perhaps to strike a little fear in the opposition, too.
That's been the effect two games into the 2023 season, anyway, after Buxton doubled, singled and scored the Twins' only two runs on Saturday, helping Minnesota shut out the Royals by the same 2-0 score as on Opening Day. Sonny Gray and four relievers provided the first back-to-back season-opening shutouts in Twins history, and for the second game in a row, Buxton was the catalyst for the Twins offense.
"Maybe my boys put a little magic in" those shoes, Buxton mused.
Could be. Or maybe Buxton, his knees healthy again after winter surgery and freed for now of the responsibility of roaming the outfield, is just using his bat and his shoes to force his will on the Royals.
"I've never played with somebody like that. He's just a one-of-one player," said new teammate Kyle Farmer, who picked up an RBI by hitting a shallow fly ball to center field in the sixth inning — somehow deep enough to score the Twins' fastest player from third base. "It's incredible watching him play and what he does. I'm glad he was on third."
If it was anyone else, this game may still be scoreless. Buxton's first-inning double to the left-field corner could have been a baserunning error, because Nate Eaton's throw to second base arrived just ahead of the runner.
But with Buxton bearing down on him, second baseman Nicky Lopez allowed the ball to hop over his glove, and Buxton was safe.
Safe and sound, actually, though it was in question for a moment. As Buxton dived for the base, his face bounced on the ground, breaking his sunglasses. Manager Rocco Baldelli came out to check on him, but Buxton said hitting his face was actually a lot better than the alternative.
When the ball skipped past Lopez, Buxton's face "was right in line with where that ball's coming," he said. "Nah, nah. I like my face a little too much. I'd rather eat dirt. If the ball hits my face, I'm not in the game" anymore.
Instead, two batters later, Jose Miranda singled him home with the only run the Twins would need.
Buxton added another one, though, after leading off the sixth inning by reaching base on a pop-up to right field that somehow fell between fielders. It reminded him of an absent teammate, Jorge Polanco, Buxton said.
"I call him Harry Potter, because that's usually how he [hits]. They just disappear and they find a spot," Buxton said. "That was the first thing I thought about. He ain't here, but when I hit balls like that, I'm like, 'Oh Polanco, you rubbed off on me today.' "
One out later, after moving to second on a passed ball, Buxton seemingly made another baserunning error that his speed bailed him out of. Miranda smacked a grounder to shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., and Buxton, too far off the base to turn back, simply ran full speed to third. Witt's rushed throw was wide, and Buxton was safe.
Then came Farmer's shallow fly ball — a failure on his part, the pinch hitter said.
"I thought there was no shot. I turned around and looked, and I was like, 'Oh, Byron's over there. He might go,' " Farmer said. "I thought he was going to fake, but then he just went. It was awesome."
Buxton's calculation: Center fielder Kyle Isbel settled under the ball, rather than catch it on the run.
"He was flat-footed. For me, if I see an outfielder behind the ball a little bit more, it gives you a little bit more hesitation," he explained. "I see you flat-footed, I don't care who you are, it's going to be tough to throw me out."
It was, especially in those shoes.