Posted at 9:42 PM on April 25, 2007
by David Zingler
Michael Cuddyer’s path toward stardom was hardly a direct one. From 2002-2005, the former #1 pick was an on-again, off-again big leaguer, “super-utility” player, and former starting third baseman. A year ago at this time, he still hadn’t cemented his role on the team.
“I (say), ‘Look, hang in there, don’t ever give up on your ability or yourself because things can change for the better,’” Cuddyer said with a motivational speaker’s flair. “It happened to me. I played five, six different positions in three years and now I’ve been able to find my spot. My first four years in the big leagues, I’d hit 8th or 9th, now I am the clean-up hitter on a division championship team.”
When asked about the biggest change to come out of his whirlwind 2006 season, Cuddyer quickly pointed to his new wife, “Obviously being married is really different,” the upbeat outfielder explained. “Having her here with me has been great. Claudia makes me realize there is much more to life than baseball.”
“She was a teacher, (I) met her back home (Virginia) about four years ago,” the newlywed said. “(We) got married in November.”
Thanks to his breakout year in 2006, the Twins raised the veteran’s pay from $1.3 million to nearly $3.6 million. Not a bad wedding present. While he built a house prior to last season, Cuddyer acknowledged making the mortgage payments is “a little easier” these days.
Although it may seem like Cuddyer was a fuzzy-cheeked prospect just yesterday to many fans, he now trails only Torii Hunter in seniority with the team. “I’ve definitely been here a little bit longer than most -- not necessarily in the big leagues -- but in this organization,” the 28-year-old commented. “I know how this organization likes to run things. When the younger guys come up, they tend to be able to come to myself or Torii (for advice). It’s nice to be able to give that helping hand, because a lot of people gave me a helping hand when I first came up.”
Being sandwiched in the line-up between Minnesota’s most famous batsmen has helped Cuddyer sneak up on opponents, something he doesn’t mind. “It’s great (hitting between the M&M boys),” the clean-up hitter acknowledged. “I don’t worry about notoriety or getting my name in the paper. I just worry about going out there and helping us win ballgames. If we win ballgames, that means we are all doing our jobs and we all had good years.”
“It’s awesome seeing (Morneau and Mauer) mature, not only as players, but people as well,” he continued. “(They’ve) really come into their own on and off the field. It’s fun to watch them become great men and great ballplayers.”
Success hasn’t made Cuddyer complacent however, “(I still work on) all facets of the game: being a better hitter, better base runner (and) better outfielder,” the 9th overall pick in the 1997 draft explained. “You can always improve until you are hitting a thousand with a homerun every time up and making every play in the outfield.”
Sure, he says all the right things, but after years of shuffling around the diamond, does Michael Cuddyer finally have an identity? Does he feel like an outfielder?
“Yeah,” he replied before pausing. “I do feel like an outfielder.”