Michael Cuddyer gracefully exited the major league stage last weekend. His 15-year career included two All Star appearances and a batting title. The only player to witness the rise and fall of the Twins Central Division Dynasty of the 2000s in its entirety, Cuddyer will always be remembered in Twins Territory for his versatility, clutch hitting and boyish smile.
I first met Cuddyer in October 2001. The Twins were playing their final series of the year in the Metrodome against the White Sox. The game had been originally scheduled for mid-September, but the tragedies on September 11 led to a postponement. Jose Canseco was in Chicago’s line-up that night; Harold Baines suited up but did not play. Cuddyer played first base and batted eighth.
It was the first time I had gotten a press credential for a major league game. The 22-year-old Cuddyer meanwhile, was enjoying life as a fresh-faced September call-up. The most memorable part of the interview was the picture above. My interview skills were a little clumsy at the time, but I must have asked him something funny.
I chatted with Cuddyer several more times during his decade long tenure with the Twins and caught up with him when I visited Denver late in the 2014 season. As most fans would guess, he was always friendly and usually smiling. When our paths crossed, he typically said hello and would indulge me with a few seconds of small talk if I pursued it. He clearly understood what it meant to be a professional and how to treat to people with respect. Even the fringe media types like me.
My favorite interaction came early in the 2003 season. At the time Cuddyer was rooming with teammate Dustan Mohr in a swanky, Uptown bachelor pad. I was working on feature about the pair and Bobby Kielty splitting time in right field when I stumbled into the middle of their bromance.
“He’s a little bit of a pretty boy,” Mohr told me when I asked him about Cuddyer. “He’s into the jell and the hair and that type of the thing. I am ugly. I wear a hat everywhere I go. It’s a good match; we complement each other.”
“Cuddyer listens to a lot of the boy bands like N’sync and the Backstreet Boys,” Mohr continued. “He has a lot of their CD’s. Everybody likes different style of music. He’s a big Justin Timberlake fan.”
When I relayed this information to Cuddyer, he denied being a boy band fan and fired back: “Just because (Mohr) doesn’t have hair is the only reason he’s not a pretty boy. In every other aspect, he’s a pretty boy. He tries to coordinate his outfits. When he goes out to pick up women he coordinates, he makes sure his shoes match his jacket…Dustan thinks he runs uptown…the only reason he goes out is to be recognized.”
The jocularity continued: “If (Cuddyer) didn’t have me, he’d be lost with the ladies,” Mohr claimed. “He’s kind of shy with the girls; I have to assist him to get the conversation going.”
Surprisingly, Cuddyer conceded that point, meekly saying it “might be true.”