Michael Cuddyer has one of the highest ratios of popularity-to-talent in all of baseball, and last night the Twins' fan favorite told a story that can only make him more likable.
Yesterday, Americans took time to reflect and revisit the horrible images of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Cuddyer has his own story of that time, and that day. And it's a doozy.
Last week, in his regular column for Fox Sports North, Cuddyer wrote about his time playing Double-A minor league ball in Connecticut. Then a 21-year-old Twins prospect, Cuddyer writes that he was coming off his best minor league season and hoping for a call-up to the big leagues.
In early September of that year, Cuddyer's team, the New Britain Rock Cats, entered a five-game playoff series and lost the first game. In the second game, with the Rock Cats down a run, Cuddyer stepped to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning and smacked a home run that won the game -- and might have saved the life of his teammate, and his teammate's wife.
The Rock Cats went on to win the next two games and take the series 3-1, advancing to the next round and prolonging their season.
On the morning of September 11, the team was back in Connecticut, awaiting the first game of the second round. Instead, the players stood around awed at what they saw on their television screens.
One player, an Australian-born pitcher named Brad Thomas, told everyone he was lucky to be alive, as Cuddyer wrote:
We knew that we were in the playoffs, but had we lost in the first round, the season would have been over Sept. 9. Brad had booked his flight for Sept. 11. He was not the only [player] who booked a flight that day, but he was the only one who was booked on the flight that took a detour off of its route from Boston to LA, right into the World Trade Center.
That is, if Cuddyer hadn't hit a home run, and turned momentum in the series, Brad Thomas and his wife Kylie would've been on American Airlines Flight 11, which terrorists had just flown into the North Tower at the World Trade Center.
Instead, thanks in part to Cuddyer's last-ditch dinger, the team had won their series, and Thomas was standing there watching the towers burn with his teammates.
A few days later, the minor league playoffs were cancelled, and Cuddyer's manager told him he'd been called up to the big leagues. With all flights still grounded, Cuddyer had to drive from Connecticut to Minneapolis.
During the Twins' 2-1 loss to the Tigers yesterday, Cuddyer told the story again, and fielded questions from the Fox Sports announcers about it. Cuddyer said he and Thomas -- who's since popped in and out of the majors, most recently pitching for the Detroit Tigers -- have stayed tight through the years, but that the two of them don't talk much about it. Just like you'd expect him to, Cuddyer was humble about the coincidence.
"[Thomas] credits me saving his life," Cuddyer said, "which I wouldn't go that far. Just kind of a twist of fate, the way it happened, and fortunately he's still around to tell the story."
With a sheepish shrug, Cuddyer said it was "probably the most important home run I ever hit."
If you needed one more reason to love Cuddyer, Twins fans, you got it.