Twins Talk, May 8 08 May 17

A Few Minutes with a Wise Young Man

I always attend the Minnesota Twins Diamond Awards. Several years ago, I had the honor to meet Byron Buxton, who was the minor-league player of the year. I could immediately tell that he was a stand-up young man: He was polite, he had a firm hand shake, and he looked me in the eye when we spoke. I also noticed that he was quiet around the veterans, but he observed how they handled themselves. The current players at that time talked to Byron as if they knew he was going to be a star. Some had played with him in the minors.

Since then, I have always checked in with Byron at spring training — even if only for a brief minute — just to see how he was doing. This year I asked him for an interview, and we tried to get together, but with conflicting schedules, it never worked. Last week, while watching batting practice, Byron shook my hand and said hello. I asked him if he had a few spare minutes. He gave me a big Buxton smile and said, “Yes.”

As we walked to sit on the bench, I asked him if he was a laid-back country kid as he grew up in Georgia. “I was. I grew up in the sticks of the area. Very country…South Georgia. I loved the outdoors. I loved to hunt, I loved to fish…that’s pretty much all me.”

I asked him if he played any team sports other than baseball. He smiled and said, “Yes sir. I played basketball until my sophomore year, and I picked up football in seventh grade, and just played baseball and football in high school. I was a quarterback my sophomore and junior year, and due to baseball, I moved to wide receiver and free safety in my senior year.”

Byron was always a speedster, but he told me he is getting faster with time. “Yeah, I think I’m getting a little faster over the course of the years. I go home (every winter) and work on my form, and try to pick up more speed. I try to get faster every year, to improve what I am doing here.”

Coming from the country, Byron appreciates traveling to the big cities, seeing the sights, and playing in the famous parks. “I love it,” he said. “When you’re a small kid, the dream is to play Major League Baseball. Mine was not only to play baseball, but to play at Boston. I got that opportunity last year, and it was a dream come true. It was good that I could finally do something on my bucket list, and go out there and enjoy it. I took it all in, and played hard trying to help my team win.”

I mentioned meeting him at the Diamond Awards, and his eyes lit up. “Yes sir, the Diamond Awards! That’s an event that you want to be part of. I was fortunate enough to receive awards and be part of it a couple times. You know — I feel very blessed to have the talents that I do, and to be able to come out here and play this game every day. And also, to have the support of my parents, my wife, and my teammates. My parents and my little sis were here a couple of weeks ago, and my wife and boy are still here.”

Byron told me that soon he’d like to get involved in some charity work, but right now he hasn’t decided which direction to go. He is young, and has a lot on his plate. I’ve seen him at many functions, as he is nearly always there to support teammates’ causes. He told me, “I want to help out the world! Everybody needs help here-and-there, so I want to be their inspiration – I want to go out there and do something for a person, just to see a smile on their face. I’m all about kids! Especially after having one of my own. Some families aren’t as fortunate as mine. I just want to help. I’ll do anything I can just to put a smile on a kid’s face. I just want to make kids happy…they take over my heart!”

Byron is one of the best outfielders in the game, but it has taken him a little extra time to adapt to the wizardry of major league pitching. As of late, though, he has been making solid contact and getting hits. I was wondering if he has made adjustments, or if he’s getting used to the pitchers, or maybe he has just become more confident and sees the ball better. He grinned and said, “All of the above. My teammates were here to pick me up through the rough patches in the start of the season. Also, my mom, my dad, and my wife, they’ve been my support. But I think the biggest thing is just going home to my little boy. No matter what I do during a game, I know he’s gonna be there smiling and waiting on me. That helps me to focus, and put everything into a better perspective. I can come out here and enjoy this game, have fun, and smile. Knowing he’s there smiling and waiting on me, allows me to be free and to do what I love.”