BALTIMORE -- Byron Buxton is a pretty relaxed guy. That can sometimes fly in the face of how we view athletes, whose genetic gifts allow them to be faster, stronger, quicker, more powerful than the overwhelming majority of the population, as though we expect their personality to match their otherworldly talents. After all, if anyone ever wanted to make the argument that professional athletes are the first genetic step towards the evolution of X-Men, I wouldn't argue.
Yet here we are. I'm asking Byron questions. He pauses a moment and then answers, like a guy who has been getting questions from the media and people he's never met for all his life. He's friendly and relaxed.
On the field he's one of the fastest players in the game, going first to third in the blink of an eye and covering center field and both its gaps like it's a hobby and he has all the time in the world. It's that effortless. And it's that thought that prompted one of my first questions.
"When was the first time you remember noticing that you were much faster than mere mortals," I ask.
He pauses, and you can almost hear the smile in his voice when he answers. "Good question. I don't know, because my dad could beat me at running until I was 19. I always thought I was slow because he was like 40 years old. So yeah, probably 2012 when I got drafted."
How can someone that good at what he does not know he's exceptional? Talent doesn't always behave like we expect. It doesn't excuse us from doubts or lack of experience or circumstance. Buxton may not have known how fast he was in comparison to his dad, but he knows how fast he is now.
Buxton's combination of traits are rare for an athlete, and you can see why the Twins and scouts have spoken so highly of him. It's not just his abilities but his nature and his attitude that contribute to his makeup. Yet it's Buxton's talent and potential that have garnered the interest of Under Armour, who had invited him to Camden Yards for a photo shoot.
"I came up here to learn a bit more about Under Armor and meet the guys I haven't met," he says about his time in Baltimore. "It's been a very fun trip and I've learned about the stuff they bring to the table." It sounds like he'll be wearing Under Armour gear next season.
This is sure to be one of many endorsement deals for the Twins' young center fielder.
* * * * *
It's been a tough few years for Buxton, who has been either playing baseball or rehabbing an injury since the start of the 2013 season. That year he played in 125 games for Twins' affiliates, hitting .334/.424/.520 before heading to the Arizona Fall League where he was shut down after 12 games with a shoulder injury. Just 31 games for Twins affiliates in 2014 were followed by another trip to the AFL, and yet again the injury bug took its toll.
Finally healthy in 2015, Buxton hit .305/.367/.500 between Double-A and Triple-A. He made his Major League debut on July 14.
"It was all a blur," he says of his first plate appearance. "I got there with maybe 45 minutes until game time, didn't really have any time to sit down and relax and take it in. It was get there, put on your clothes, and go play."
Buxton reached just once in the game, on a fielder's choice in the top of the ninth. But in a 3-3 game, that was enough. Eddie Rosario doubled and Buxton scored from first for what would be the winning run. That speed was on full display.
"We got the win. That's all that matters, to me anyway. I was just glad to get up there and make an impact as soon as I did."
Now, for the first time in three years, Buxton isn't scheduled to play winter ball and he's not busy nursing an injury. After taking the first month of the season off, he'll be in Atlanta working out until Christmas. Surely his fiance and son will be looking forward to getting a bit more time with him as well?
"Most definitely. Most of the time it's just me and my little boy going out into the yard playing, so I'll get to do a lot more of that. Just relax at the house."
A moment later, he adds "I'll get to watch TV a lot more."
For a player as humble as Buxton, I get one more reminder of the juxtaposition between his demeanor and his drive. Do he and the young guys he's risen through the system with think about the idea that they could be creating something special for the Minnesota Twins?
"We talk about it quite a bit, but we try to focus on what we got in front of us. We always talk about how good or how scary it would be if we all played on the same team one day and won a World Series. That's the biggest goal, for us to get up there and play good, make the playoffs and win the World Series."
That's the way it's been with the best Minnesota Twins teams of the last 30 years. Hrbek, Puckett, Gaetti, Viola, Gagne, Brunansky. Hunter, Radke, Mientkiewicz, Pierzynski, Koskie, Jones. Mauer, Morneau, Santana, Liriano, Cuddyer, Span.
"Hopefully one day we can all be together again and do that," he finishes. I thank him and wish him good luck. The moment after we hang up, I'm already thinking.
After yesterday's trade of Aaron Hicks, the Twins have said that their hope is for Buxton to be their starting center fielder from opening day. With any luck that's exactly what will go down, new Under Armour shoes and all, and just maybe we'll get to see him lead Minnesota to the playoffs. After that, who knows?
Buxton. Sano. Berrios. Rosario. May. Kepler. Don't tell me you weren't already thinking about it.