@16 with Byron Buxton
By Lujain Al-Khawi, ThreeSixty intern
The Minnesota Twins rookie prospect talks life on and off the baseball diamond
PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER.
Byron Buxton’s Major League Baseball career has just begun, but the rookie already knows what he wants to do when his playing days are over.
“Eventually, I want to go outside and live a little bit and try to pursue that dream of getting into sports medicine,” Buxton said from the Twins’ dugout at Target Field on a warm July afternoon.
But for now, the 21-year-old from Georgia is busy focusing on his young, promising career as a centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins.
Buxton, who was called up to the Minnesota Twins in June, is one of baseball's top major league prospects.
Less than two weeks after Buxton, the Twins rookie who is considered the top prospect in baseball, was called up from Double-A Chattanooga in mid-June, he was forced to sit out after injuring his thumb while sliding into second base against the Chicago White Sox.
However, Byron was “very hopeful,” he said in late July, not just for his recovery, but his future as a professional baseball player.
All eyes have been on the five-tool player since he was drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in 2012. The word “potential” has become synonymous with his name.
Before his rise to the national spotlight, Buxton grew up in Georgia, playing baseball, football and basketball in high school. He was offered a full-ride scholarship to play baseball at the University of Georgia – his dream school. But after considering the offer, and even contemplating playing college football for the Bulldogs, he decided to sign with the Twins instead.
That decision proved successful.
Buxton found success in the minors, despite battling injuries in 2014.
Before his injury in June, he was hitting .189 with five runs, a double, a triple and 15 strikeouts in his first 37 major-league at-bats.
Despite his minor setback, Buxton is determined to give his best for the team, the fans and, his son, Brixton.
I’m going to have you take me back a little bit, if you do not mind. Around what age did you know you wanted baseball to be a part of your future?
Maybe age 11 or 12. That’s when I started being a little more serious about it. I grew up playing basketball, that’s what my dad played in high school. Just wanted to try out baseball, and ever since then, I had a pretty good passion and love for the game.
What was it like receiving national attention as a high school baseball player?
Quite nerve-wracking. I mean, coming from a small town where I [was] at, you do not expect to see as many scouts and performance directors there at the game, so it was kind of nervous growing up playing a game, but at the same time, it was also fun because you are playing side by side with your friends.
What was it like being drafted No. 2 overall, and going from high school to the minor leagues?
It was a tough adjustment, especially pitching-wise. I did not see as much quality pitching as I did when I first got in, but you have to overcome and adjust to the pitching, just stay focused.
Walk me through the experience of getting your major league call-up in June.
I was on the road in Birmingham, Alabama, and they called me into the office to talk about base running, so I did not pay any attention to it and walked back out, and everybody was in the clubhouse saying a manger came in and he announced that I was going up. And just a lot of excitement and joy came through me, especially when it is one of your childhood dreams.
Were you expecting this news to arrive when it did?
Not at all, especially, we were in a playoff race down there, so I wasn’t thinking or expecting a call-up anytime soon, so it was definitely a very exciting and unexpected moment.
What have been the biggest changes between playing in the minors and the majors? And how have you handled those changes?
Definitely, the pitching here is a lot better and pitchers have more than one out pitch. Other than Double-A where they’ve got pitches but they don’t spot up as well. And I have to adjust by getting more experience, getting more at-bats and just being focused and having quality at-bats while you are up there, trying to grind out at-bats to help your teammates out.
How do you handle all of this pressure, or hype, surrounding you entering the major leagues?
Just try to stay humble and respect the fans here. I mean they obviously like me a lot here, and I do not want to do anything to, how can I say, not be on their good side. So, I will do everything I can in the community to keep the fans happy.
What has the road to recovery for your thumb been like so far?
I think the toughest part of this road is just watching your teammates out there, and you cannot go out there and play side by side with them and try to have a few more games, but it has been pretty good. I come in when they are on the road at 9 [a.m.] or 10 [a.m.], and I do my rehab work, I run every day, I throw every day, just try to stay in shape and try to keep my arm in shape until they get back.
Are you hopeful?
Yeah, very hopeful.
What are your goals on the field now that you are in the majors?
One of my biggest goals no matter where I am at is just to go out there and give 110 percent because you don’t know how long you’ll be able to play this game one day, and you just don’t want to take anything for granted. I want to go out there and give my best shot every night.
What’s it like playing alongside Torii Hunter, and what has your relationship been with him?
Very fun and energetic. I mean we do not keep anything dull or blunt. The relationship together has grown a lot since spring training. We got to know each other a lot. Really, we just come out here and try to do as much as we can while we are at the field together. Just relaxed.
Is he a pretty relaxed guy?
Oh yeah. Not even close to uptight.
How did your experience playing high school ball shape who you are today?
It just really taught me what I really wanted to do after high school. Baseball was definitely my option of what I wanted to do, so I worked extra hard in high school to try to get where I am at today. My coaches and family helped me out as well. Even if they did not want to do it, they would go to the field with me and throw with me. I am very thankful and grateful for them.
You were interested in playing college football, too. Why did you decide to focus on baseball?
I had a lot more passion and love for the game of baseball. I started playing football my seventh- or eighth-grade year of middle school. I just played football just to stay in shape, friends are playing, just to not be working or having a job. Other than that, that is the only reason I played football. I played basketball until my sophomore year. Then, I started running over into baseball, and when that happened, I stopped playing basketball my sophomore year and just focused on baseball. I played football my junior and senior year, but the biggest focus is on baseball.
How do you like living in Minnesota?
Oh, I like it. Definitely a different environment from the one I am used to, so I try to get out as much as possible on my free time before I come to the field every day.
What advice would you give to high school athletes who want to enter the pros?
Definitely make sure you do your schoolwork. That was probably the biggest thing for my parents. When you are out there, make sure you give your best effort because high school is going to end one day and the world is going to come. You do not want to be surprised by it. And, just have fun while you are there. You know high school life, it was fun, but I took it too seriously to where I didn’t do other things that I wanted to do while I was there. So, now that I am out here in the real world, it’s pretty focused.
What are you most excited about going forward?
Right now, I am very excited to be ... close to getting back out here playing. I think the most exciting thing is making a dream come true, making it to the big leagues and playing in a big-league stadium.
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THE BUXTON FILE
Profession: Minnesota Twins centerfielder
High school: Appling County High School in Baxley, Ga.
Career highlights: Drafted by the Twins with the No. 2 overall pick in 2012. Awarded the Minor League Player of the Year in 2013 by Baseball America. Rated as best prospect in baseball by MLB.com in early 2015. Called up to the majors in June 2015.
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