Buxton's injuries all too familiar for Baldelli

June 22nd, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- In the aftermath of the hit-by-pitch and fractured left hand that sent to another stint on the injured list, both Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and outfield coordinator Tommy Watkins emphasized one thing: None of this is fair.

Only three days after returning from a six-week stint on the IL with a hip strain, Buxton is facing the prospect of another extended period of time off the field amid the best season of his career -- and none of it is through any fault of his own.

What's Buxton supposed to do when he's standing in the batter's box and he can't get out of the way of a 94 mph fastball that runs up and in?

"I saw him during the game, and there were a lot of different emotions," Baldelli said. "He’s beyond upset. And that’s what I would expect from him. ... I think the number of traumas, physically, that he’s had to deal with, and because of that, emotionally, when you have to deal with that many types of things, difficult things, it’s hard on you."

Whether it's frustration, helplessness, anger -- or, likely, some combination of all of those -- Baldelli can, unfortunately, relate to those emotions all too well.

The Twins' skipper notably started his own playing career in 2003 with a third-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting as he showed off a true five-tool skill set, drawing comparisons to some of the greatest to play the game, and he was seemingly primed to ride all of that immense natural talent to a long, productive career.

Instead, after appearing in 292 games across his first two big league seasons, Baldelli only made it into 227 contests across the next six.

First came the torn ACL and the Tommy John surgery -- both results of freak injuries -- that cost him the entire 2005 season and much of '06. Then came the recurring hamstring issues. And, worst of all, that all led to the persistent fatigue and muscle challenges that eventually culminated in his diagnosis with a rare mitochondrial disease that pushed him to an early retirement at age 29.

"The only ways that I knew how to deal with them was trying not to complain, just dealing with whatever came my way," Baldelli said. "But in actuality, I was probably very depressed and probably was not quite acting in the way that I thought I was, and didn’t really know what to do at times.

"And probably, a lot of the time, I just wanted to be left alone to deal with all of the struggles that I was dealing with. That was easier, to just be left alone, than it was to have to deal with them every day and have to discuss them every day. It’s a very, very difficult thing to be asked to do."

Baldelli went on to praise Buxton's continued mental fortitude in the face of all of these setbacks, which have recently included a bruised right wrist, concussion-like symptoms and a season-ending collision with the wall and shoulder surgery in 2019, a hit-by-pitch in the helmet that caused more concussion-like symptoms at the end of '20 -- and now in '21, hamstring and hip troubles and this hit-by-pitch.

"Yeah, he's incredibly strong," Baldelli said. "He has had to deal with a lot, but he usually deals with it by continually moving forward. He doesn't really look back very often. He doesn't complain very often. He doesn't do much to get in his way."

But as Baldelli himself indicated, there's sometimes more underneath the surface than meets the eye -- and he just hopes to put himself in a position to use his own experiences to be there for Buxton however he can.

"I think Buck and I understand each other very well, I’d say," Baldelli said. "We know where each other is coming from. I have great respect for him, and I think it’s mutual. And we are always having some sort of pretty meaningful conversations. And we’ve had to have some of those conversations over the last few years."

As the years dragged on and Baldelli continued to deal with the frustrations of his own playing career, he didn't have a wife and kids of his own and needed to find his own ways to distract himself from the challenges wrought by his body. He bought a bass guitar, he said, to try and keep his mind off of the situation and spent as much time as he could around his loved ones or close friends.

Fortunately, Buxton has his wife, Lindsey, and his sons, Brixton and Blaze, to lean on in these times. He has remarked several times throughout the season that the increased perspective brought by his children has helped him to have more fun with baseball and treat it like the game that it is.

Buxton's teammates -- and the whole clubhouse -- will continue to be there for him, too. And they know they'll get through this together.

"We just want to be there to support him and help him get through this and deal with this, because it’s not easy," Baldelli said. "It’s not as easy as getting hit on the hand, being a little bit angry or disappointed and then giving it four to six weeks to heal. ... It goes beyond that when you’ve had to deal with the types of things that he’s dealt with.

"The things that he's had to deal with, that would put a lot of people off to the side," he added. "I don't know how some others would come back from this stuff. He's dealt with it over and over again and it keeps coming back. It's impressive, and I think it impresses the people in the clubhouse as well. We wish we wouldn't have to deal with these things, but Buck's a guy that can deal with it. He may not feel like it at different times, but he certainly can."