Byron Buxton, weather willing, will make his Twins home debut Wednesday in what has to be considered one of the most anticipated games in recent franchise history.
It also sparked a question: Not that Buxton is necessarily destined for greatness, but how did some of the Twins’ all-time great hitters fare in their first full home games?
Let’s take a look in chronological order (note: this list only includes players who made their debuts while with the Twins, not the Senators, hence the lack of Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison and others).
Tony Oliva: Sept. 14, 1962: Oliva made his home debut in style, batting third and playing right field. He ended the game 2-for-3 with three runs batted in and two runs scored. He walked in his first plate appearance, scoring later in the inning, and hit a two-run double in the second in his first official at-bat, helping the Twins win in a rout.
Rod Carew: April 14, 1967. Batting fifth and playing second base, Carew had an RBI single in the first inning in his first-ever home at-bat. It turned out to be his only hit in a 1-for-4 effort, but it helped the Twins to a 5-3 win over Detroit.
Kent Hrbek: Sept. 8, 1981. Hrbek played parts of three home games before getting his first full home contest on that date. He batted fifth and was the DH, going 0-for-3 and striking out in his first at-bat. His overall debut — on the road at Yankee Stadium that year on Aug. 24 — was far more memorable, of course. He cracked the game-winning home run in the top of the 12th in a 3-2 victory.
Kirby Puckett: May 15, 1984. After collecting 12 hits in his first five career starts — all on the road — Puckett kept right on rolling with a 2-for-5 game in his home debut. He batted leadoff and played center field, getting a single in his first career home at bat. Also, an oddity: Dave Stieb of Toronto, who was pitching for Toronto in Hrbek’s first full home game with the Twins, was also the starter for Puckett’s first home game. Also of note: Puckett started his career 36 for his first 93 (.387 average), though all but two hits were singles.
Chuck Knoblauch: April 12, 1991. Batting second (behind Dan Gladden) and playing second base, Knoblauch went 1-for-3 with a walk and scored twice in his home debut, a 6-0 win over the Angels. He walked in his first career plate appearance, scoring on a Chili Davis single and also scored in the fifth after singling to start the inning.
Justin Morneau: June 10, 2003. Morneau batted cleanup as the DH in his home debut against Colorado, as clear a sign as could be given that he was in Minnesota to boost the offense. He did his part, going 2-for-4 — including a single in his first-ever home at-bat — but the Twins lost 5-0 to Colorado.
Joe Mauer: April 5, 2004: Almost certainly the most anticipated home debut in Twins history given his local status and the fact that he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, Mauer did not disappoint. He went 2-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored, batting eighth and playing the entire 11-inning 7-4 win over Cleveland at catcher. Mauer walked in his first plate appearance in the third inning, got his first career hit in the ninth and singled again as part of an 11th inning rally, scoring on Shannon Stewart’s walkoff home run. Of note: Mauer was injured in the very next game, hurting his knee chasing a foul ball. He was limited to just 122 plate appearances that season.
Cordarrelle Patterson has spent much of this spring catching passes from backup quarterback Shaun Hill as he runs with the second-string offense.
When the Vikings trot out three-receiver sets, it is Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright on the field, not the 2013 first-round pick.
But despite Patterson getting little work with starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in team drills during spring practices, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said today that Patterson is still seen as a potential starter.
“He’s in the mix. In my mind, he’s in the mix,” Turner said. “I told our guys that when we start our games I hope we have 16 starters. You can only put 11 on the field at a time. But if we can get to where we are playing multiple people and giving defenses different looks and we have a lot of people contributing, it makes us much harder to defend.”
After a slow start to his second season — during which he too often ran the wrong route or lined up improperly — Patterson was benched last November in favor of Johnson and could not regain his starting spot. He finished the season with 33 catches for 384 yards and one touchdown.
So this offseason, Patterson spent a few weeks doing grueling outdoor workouts in San Francisco. He also was supposed to work with a former NFL wide receiver recommended to him by coach Mike Zimmer, but the Vikings continue to keep all details about that operation under wraps.
Turner seems to be pleased with the work that Patterson put in this spring, and it sounds like the Vikings are counting on the 24-year-old to contribute this season in some capacity, even if he isn’t technically a starter.
“I think Cordarrelle’s had a good offseason,” Turner said. “We’ve got a good group of receivers, a good group of guys that can contribute, can compete. We added Mike Wallace. So I think we are going to have a lot of guys contribute on offense and Cordarrelle is going to be one of those guys.”
Throwback basketball fans might look at the naming of the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala as NBA Finals MVP as a vote for grit over glamour, of sacrifice over self-promotion and, more importantly, the triumph of old-school over new school.
Here was a guy who deferred all season to a lesser role off the bench than he might otherwise be capable … suddenly rising to the occasion when inserted into the starting lineup as a spark that carried Golden State to a six-game victory.
Here was a guy who didn’t finish better than third in any main statistical category (points, rebounds, assists or steals) among all players in the series. Instead, he was being rewarded for his all-around game, his intangible contributions and his work defending the greatest player on the planet, LeBron James.
It’s a compelling piece of a drama-filled finals, even if the naming of the Finals MVP is mostly just a side show.
But while much of the grit narrative holds up, one part of the Iguodala-as-MVP story that needs to be turned around is this: His winning the award isn’t a throwback honor; it’s about as this-generation as it gets.
Let me explain: LeBron was the Most Valuable Player in this series. To suggest otherwise demeans the contributions of a player who took a team decimated by injuries and made this an actual competitive series. He was not efficient, but it’s hard to be efficient when you average 45.8 minutes played per game in a series. He was hoisting an entire roster — an entire state. You try carrying all that on your back and seeing how efficient you are.
What James lacked in efficiency he made up for in every other way. His end six-game averages – 35.6 points 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists – are patently absurd. Give Cleveland any other player on the planet to replace LeBron in that series, and it’s almost certainly over in four games.
But LeBron was not named the MVP because somewhere in the course of our nation’s sporting history, most valuable player voting morphed into most valuable winner – reflecting, I would argue, our society’s emphasis on attaching value to victory.
You lost? Sorry, nice try, but you are not valuable. The winner is valuable.
It didn’t used to be this way, as ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton wrote in a great piece before Game 6 arguing that LeBron should be the series MVP, win or lose. Pelton writes about the history of several other sports, noting:
The very first NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player (Jimmy Hull of Ohio State in 1939) was from the losing team, and between 1953 and 1971 more than half (10 of 19) of all MOPs did not win the title.
But the MOP hasn’t been from a losing team in more than 30 years now. In the pros?
The only big four pro sport with a losing MVP in the past four decades is the NHL, whose Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the MVP of the playoffs rather than the Stanley Cup finals specifically. And even in the NHL, losing Conn Smythe winners were much more common in the 1960s and ’70s (three times between 1966 and 1976) than recently (just twice since).
What’s particularly galling about this is that so many of us have come around to the notion, in 2015, that within a team context there is only so much that an individual can control. That’s why traditional baseball stats like the RBI and wins for pitchers have come to have less meaning and why many of us look in all sports for deeper statistics that might help better explain an individual’s true contribution.
LeBron crushes Iguodala in any sane head-to-head comparison. Iguodala was a disaster from the free throw line in the series (10 for 28), and his Game 6 misses almost came back to haunt the Warriors. And the very man who yielded some of those historic numbers to LeBron is the same man lauded for keeping him down.
But really, I’m not trying to diminish Iguodala’s work. Any sane person can also see that his contributions went beyond stats and that he had a tremendous impact on the series (even if Steph Curry going 18 for 33 from three-point range in the final three games after going 7 for 32 in the first three was arguably the greatest turnaround factor).
I’m here to decry the idea that MVPs don’t come from losing teams. LeBron wasn’t any less valuable because he lost with a bunch of role players than he would have been with the exact same numbers in a victory with a better team.
His performance stood on his own merit, and the fact that he didn’t win the award says far more about us than it does about him.
It hasn’t taken long for rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt to turn some heads.
Pruitt, a fifth-round pick out of Div. I-AA Southern Illinois, appears to have leapt ahead of Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison on the depth chart, at least when it comes to the base offense. On Tuesday, Pruitt joined Kyle Rudolph as the second tight end in the Vikings’ two-TE personnel packages.
Pruitt is not playing tight end, though. The Vikings moved him all over the field during the first day of this week’s minicamp. One minute Pruitt was in the backfield at fullback. The next he lined up at tight end or out wide.
“MyCole has done a nice job. We’ve moved him around quite a bit,” head coach Mike Zimmer said yesterday. “He runs very, very well. He makes some really, really good catches and he’s 255 pounds. We anticipate that he will be a pretty good blocker. He’s really catching our eye.”
Pruitt grabbed the attention of offensive coordinator Norv Turner leading up to the draft. Like Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron, Pruitt is a former basketball player turned pass-catching tight end, though that’s pretty much commonplace now after all the success Gates has had in San Diego.
While Pruitt was playing a tier below the big boys in college, he led all Division I tight ends with 81 catches, 861 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. In Southern Illinois’ only game against a Div. 1-A team last season, a loss to Purdue, Pruitt caught 10 passes for 136 yards.
The Vikings were impressed enough to draft Pruitt despite having depth behind Rudolph with Ellison, Ford and former Packer Brandon Bostick.
The Vikings moved Ellison, who is a good blocker but not exactly explosive as a receiver, around last season and he was typically the other tight end in their two-TE sets. But the early indications are that Pruitt can maybe be a multi-dimensional player, giving him an edge over those other guys.
“Pruitt, he’s an athlete, I’m going to tell you that much,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We’re glad to have him. He brings something different to the table. He can catch passes out of the backfield, catch passes from the tight end position, he can block in the run game, he can line up at wide receiver, probably can return punts and kicks, also. He’s an exciting player to have and he’s just looking forward to his opportunity.”
Bridgewater was probably exaggerating when it comes to Pruitt chipping in as a returner, too. But Pruitt did do all of that other stuff Tuesday.
And if he can block, too, he might make Ellison or Ford expendable.