Byron Buxton “Scared of the Wall” For First Time

PHOTO: CARLOS GONZALEZ – STAR TRIBUNE

We all know about Byron Buxton’s slump, which continued on Wednesday. The Minnesota Twins superstar is now 0 for his last 26. But, he was written in as a DH in the finale yesterday vs the Detroit Tigers, on what has been his scheduled off day (every 3rd game). That’s an encouraging sign. As long as Buxton’s physical ailments are on the mend, and not the cause of his decline, this slump too shall pass.

Buxton “Scared of the Wall”

What’s important, is that Byron Buxton stays healthy enough to be on the field and productive. And in that department, there’s more good news. Did you see the fly ball Buxton dropped on the warning track in the 6th inning on Monday? Watching live, it looked like Buxton was scared of the wall. He was and confirmed that with reporters on Wednesday.

Buxton said that was the first time since his injury he was “scared of the wall.”

“The back of my head was, ‘Make sure you’re there for your teammates,'” Buxton said. “I could tell how skittish I was. I was mad, but not mad. Mad it hit my glove, and I didn’t catch it. But I was positive because I stayed on the field.”

“You pick and choose your times to turn the jets on and not turn the jets on,” Buxton said. “My teammates made that very, very clear: Make sure I’m smart. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure I stay on the field and be there for them.”

Star Tribune

Reading these words should be music to Twins fan eyes. We’ve been waiting a long time for Buxton to admit that his health is often in his own hands. As much as we’d love to see him make superhuman catches on a night-in, night-out basis, it’s not possible for him to stay on the field long-term with his old ‘catch or die’ attitude.

Previously, Byron Buxton was stubborn about needing to play the game the way he always had, signaling an inability to change. That attitude made fans and media more and more frustrated as the injuries piled up. But going off of his comments following yesterday’s game, Buxton might finally be figuring it out.

Maybe his teammates, coaches and team executives convinced him. Maybe it’s his new $100 million contract. It doesn’t matter. Just as long as he stays on the field.

Early Struggles

Byron Buxton’s worst enemy has always been himself. Early on in his career, he struggled with injuries and the pressure/expectations applied to a top-5 minor league prospect (former #2 overall draft pick). There were many days, back then, when fans and media members, alike, wondered if Buxton would ever live up to expectations. I’ve ranted about this many times, most recently when he crashed into the wall during Spring Training.

With two seasons and 138 major league baseball games under his belt, entering the 2017 season, Buxton’s career batting average was .220; career OPS of .672 (80 OPS+). Things got worse, as the 2017 season got underway. On June 30, with the season half over, Byron was sporting a .195 average and .552 OPS.

But after the All Star break in 2017, things started to click at the plate and concerns of his future eventually waned. Buxton learned to block the outside noise and let his talent and baseball acumen flourish. From July 1 to October 1 (66 games), Byron Buxton hit .309 with a .896 OPS. He finished the season with 140 games played.

Health > Outs

Just as fans started to dream big about the rise of a new MLB superstar, Byron’s career was derailed by more injuries. Buxton never played more than 87 games in one season from 2018-2021 (4 seasons). He’s dealt with so many injuries that it’s difficult to go back and find which were bad luck and which could have been avoided.

What’s not difficult to find, are videos of Byron crashing violently into outfield walls, turf and even teammates. For Buxton to remain on the field, he needed to put his health ahead of robbing a few extra base hits every season.

Don’t worry about Byron Buxton’s slump. Worry about his health. As long as Buck’s body is feeling good (relatively speaking), he’ll be the Twins’ best player. And no matter how often Rocco Baldelli sits him, the only person who can really make an impact in avoiding future injuries is Byron Buxton himself. And this week, we saw him take a huge step in the right direction.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan