SEATTLE – The last time Timothy Ackers saw Byron Buxton play baseball, "He pitched a hell of a game. State championship game back in Georgia."
Unfortunately, even though his former Appling County (Ga.) High classmate and football teammate provided tickets for Ackers and three friends, that's going to remain his most recent glimpse of Buxton on a baseball diamond for the moment. The Platinum Glove center fielder — and All-Star voting fan favorite — traveled with the Twins to Seattle, but remains on the injured list for at least another day or two.
"He's doing pretty well, but he's dealing with a little bit of residual soreness from being out there on the field," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "There were some times where he refrained from running full speed out there, maybe to protect himself a little bit."
Buxton said he understands the decision, but after missing 35 games with a strained hip, then performing well in a three-game rehab stint in St. Paul, it's getting hard to wait.
"I haven't played in a month and it feels more like a year," the 27-year-old Buxton said. "I'm fine to play right now, but it's more about, 'How will I feel tomorrow?' It doesn't bother me when I'm playing, but after."
Buxton took batting practice on Monday, launching several balls into the seats, and he did the standard learn-the-park session with the other outfielders before the game. So he's ready when the Twins are.
"I can't wait. That's how my swing is right now. I'm anxious, I'm pumped, I'm ready," Buxton said. "I'm going to have to keep nagging at [Baldelli] until he puts me into the lineup."
Does that work? "Not really. It's not as easy as you think, especially about injuries," Buxton said. "He knows players pretty well. He knows if I come out here at less than 100%, something could possibly go wrong because I really don't know how to play less than 100 percent. I know they want to keep me from making it worse. I just want to do my thing."
Nobody did it better in high school than Buxton, Ackers said, especially on the football field.
"A monster athlete. He could throw it 80 yards, he could go up and outcatch anybody. And he was just a good leader. He motivated guys to get better," said Ackers, now in the U.S. Army and stationed in nearby Tacoma, Wash. "He could really punt, too. I remember him punting one 71 yards."
Buxton may have sat out five weeks, but what he's already accomplished this season — a .370 average with nine home runs and a 2.7 WAR that still leads the Twins — has left an impression with All-Star voters, who made him the third highest vote-getting outfielder, in line for a starting spot in next month's game in Denver.
“I haven't played in a month and it feels more like a year. I'm fine to play right now, but it's more about, 'How will I feel tomorrow?' It doesn't bother me when I'm playing, but after.”
Mike Trout leads all AL outfielders with 15% of the vote, MLB revealed Monday, though the Angels' center fielder has also missed a month to injury. Aaron Judge of the Yankees is second at 11%, and Buxton, who has never been selected an All-Star, is third with 8%, just ahead of Texas' Adolis Garcia with 7%.
"It's pretty cool," Buxton said. "I didn't expect that. I just want to get back out there."
Injured list shuffle
Though Buxton wasn't activated Monday, a couple of his teammates were. Kenta Maeda returned from the injured list and started the opener of the road trip, and Luis Arraez returned from his shoulder injury.
To make room, the Twins placed starting pitcher Michael Pineda on the 10-day injured list after twice experiencing tightness in his right forearm. And Rob Refsnyder, hobbled by a hamstring injury that occurred as he stretched a single into a double, went on the injured list as well.
"He tried to get it loose. He got worked on in the training room, but we realized pretty quickly that he was not going to be able to run hard today, with what he's dealing with," Baldelli said.