FORT MYERS, Fla. – Lucas Duda declined to be interviewed for this story.
“Ha, of course he did,” laughed Addison Reed. “That’s perfect. That’s him.”
Duda told a Twins spokesman that he doesn’t want any “woe-is-me” stories about his current predicament. He probably wants no hint that he would ever complain about having to work his way back via a minor league contract to return to the majors. He’d certainly prefer to avoid a discussion about how a stress fracture in his back, a hyperextension in his throwing elbow and a nagging case of plantar fasciitis have recently derailed a career that once made him one of the most feared power hitters in the National League.
But that’s OK, because there are plenty of people around Duda who are willing to speak on the media-shy slugger’s behalf — starting with Reed’s young daughter, Makena.
“She absolutely loves him. When she was 2, she would walk around the house saying, ‘Du-da! Du-da! Du-da!’ ” said Reed, a teammate of Duda with the Mets in 2015-17. “I used to film her saying it and send it to him.”
The 33-year-old first baseman is known as a man of few words, but a loud bat. “He’s kind of like a gentle, soft-spoken giant. He’s a big man, he swings a big bat,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the 6-4, 250-pound Duda. “He lets his play do the talking.”
Lately, it’s said a lot. Baldelli, who got to know him during Duda’s two months as a Tampa Bay Ray in 2017, has penciled his name in the lineup in eight games already and given him 24 plate appearances, more than any Twin but Jake Cave. Baldelli wants to give his friend every chance to make the team — or interest scouts looking for power hitters. Duda has responded with a .300 average, a couple of doubles, and the loudest batting practice sessions this side of Nelson Cruz.
“Lucas has been very open from the start to getting out there, riding the bus, playing as often as he can,” said Baldelli, who has made the lefthanded Duda a designated hitter five times this spring. “He’s got a decade of service time, but he’s willing to do whatever he has to to prove himself.”
He doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone who played with him during the Mets’ run to the National League pennant in 2015. New York opened that season by winning 13 of its first 16 games, and Duda was the biggest non-pitching reason why.
“He absolutely carried us until we traded for [Yoenis] Cespedes at the deadline. He was our offense,” former Twin and Met Michael Cuddyer said of Duda, who batted .351 with a .965 OPS during the Mets’ hot start. “That was a team built on pitching, but you can’t win 2-1 games if you can’t score those two runs. Lucas took care of that for us.”
And the Mets took care of their publicity-shy teammate, in a tormenting sort of way. Duda had a locker in a quiet corner of the Mets clubhouse, next to veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson, who took it upon himself to tease Duda every chance he got. He created an Instagram account called @WeFollowLucasDuda, and constantly posted candid photos of the bashful slugger.
“It was hilarious because he’s the last person on the planet Earth, probably, who would ever have a social media account,” Reed said. “So Grandy would snap pictures of him every day. He’d be crawling under tables trying to get a picture of Lucas. And he hated it, which made it even more fun.”
Duda is fun, too, his teammates say. You just have to wait for it sometimes.
“He’s so quiet, he never says anything. And when he does, it’s usually a one-liner, a movie quote, something hilarious,” Reed said. “I’ve seen him go all day without a word, and then he’ll say something that has you laughing for hours.”
It was his bat, not his wit, that attracted the Twins. Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey cited Duda’s exit velocity as particularly interesting, because he still hits the ball harder than most major leaguers, and his 12 homers and .477 slugging percentage against righthanded pitching last year caught Falvey’s attention. Duda, even knowing that the roster numbers are against him, agreed to a minor league deal; if he’s not on the roster by March 24, he can declare himself a free agent again.
“We were a little righthanded at the time, and you never know how things will play out when you get to camp,” Falvey said. “When you bring in a nonroster guy with a background and status like his, certainly you want to treat him with respect. And he’s shown how competitive he is.”