'Little-kid moment' reminds Buxton what he can do

With a leap, outfielder shows Twins -- and himself -- his skills with the glove

April 9th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- Boy, had missed that feeling.

That feeling of gliding over into the gap, not daring to take his eyes off the ball. That feeling of soaring into the air with his glove outstretched. That feeling when the crowd would roar and the scoreboard would show his triumph of having saved several runs for his team with his glove.

Though the Dodgers triumphed on Monday night, 4-2, when James Outman and Shohei Ohtani hit two balls into the stands where Buxton couldn’t reach them, the biggest roar of the night at Target Field came when the center fielder -- back out there where he belongs -- exploded back into the highlight reel with a dive and a reminder that few spots in this outfield are safe from his reach.

It was a good refresher of what that feels like for Buxton himself, too, after all he’s been through in the last two years.

“The first thing I thought about was, ‘You ain't done that in like two years, you know?’” Buxton said. “It’s like a little-kid moment. Kind of go back to the first time you dove for a ball as a kid. That's literally what it felt like.”

At that point, Buxton was even more hyped up -- shouting into the air, high-fiving right fielder , pointing his finger up -- because his all-out diving catch in the right-center field gap had preserved a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth inning. Had Buxton missed, one run would certainly have scored, and two runs would likely have scored.

“Mentally, just making a play like that and then being able to, I guess, bounce back, especially where I was the past two years, it's a big positive,” Buxton said. “And how much work, not just myself, but the trainers and coaches put into making sure that I was ready for the season.”

, the Twins' reliever on the mound, thought Buxton had no shot at any point during the play, starting from when the ball took off from Teoscar Hernández’s bat and right up until the moment when the ball actually disappeared into Buxton’s outstretched glove.

Okert had been in the National League his whole career, so he hadn’t ever experienced the Buxton show in person before. That’s why he’d been so disbelieving that someone could cover 69 feet in the outfield that quickly on a sinking liner, then make that split-second, all-or-nothing call to dive.

Then, Okert was even more disbelieving when Buxton shot up and fired an 88.4 mph strike directly to at second base, nearly doubling off Freddie Freeman for what would have been a nearly impossible double play for Okert to comprehend.

“I haven't seen him play much out there,” Okert said. “I heard some of the other guys saying, 'I knew he had it right away.' So I see him diving, and it's like, 'Oh, God,' and then he comes up with it. It was a good feeling.”

“He almost explodes as he's getting to the ball,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Normally, you see guys slowing down as they get to where the ball's going -- and he explodes to it.”

Buxton was a bit more subdued after the game because the Twins ultimately did lose, and following his fourth-inning single, the final 18 Minnesota hitters were retired in order in a continuation of the club’s deep offensive difficulties to open this season.

This season is different for Buxton in that last year, he struggled mightily alongside the offense in early ‘23, while simultaneously frustrated that his ailing right knee -- subject to two consecutive offseason surgeries -- limited him to DH duties only. He’s talked plenty about how adding center field back to his game further spurs his offense.

His teammates are grateful for it, too, especially the numerous fly-ball pitchers on his staff. A resurgent (five innings, three hits, one run allowed, seven strikeouts) saw that on a first-inning fly ball at the right-center wall on which Buxton made a leaping grab -- then Okert saw it spectacularly, an hour later.

“Just knowing that I can throw stuff in there and get fly balls like I normally do, and he'll be behind me doing things like that, it's great,” Okert said.

“I’ve seen him do some unbelievable things out there, and just to have him back out there is great,” Ober said. “I think some of our pitching staff in the dugout was like, ‘Oh man, feels pretty good to have him back out there.’”