Patrick Reusse
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The 2013 Glendale Desert Dogs from the Arizona Fall League might be able to put together an alumni team that could squeeze into the wild-card round of the 2024 playoffs.

For sure, those ex-Desert Dogs would finish ahead of the White Sox.

The starting lineup would include Marcus Semien, Cory Seager, Tucker Barnhart, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton. You might have to talk pitchers such as Trevor May and Alex Meyer out of retirement for the bullpen, but Chris Bassitt, Michael Lorenzen and Andrew Heaney could be three starters for a wild-card series.

"I had just been drafted that year, and was still trying to figure out pro ball,'' said Colby Suggs, a pitcher on that team and now the Twins' bullpen coach. "There was a lot of talent on that team, and that was the first time I saw 'Buck.'"

The would be Byron Buxton, who would turn 20 that Dec. 18, after the Fall League was over.

"What a freak athlete; the pure speed he played with, and the energy," Suggs said. "He was thin then, but still strong. I remember one play, where he bailed me out with a diving catch that was tremendous."

That had been Buxton's second season of pro ball, after being drafted No. 2 overall by the Twins in 2012 — just behind shortstop Carlos Correa going to Houston.

Buxton and Correa both had torn up the Midwest League in 2013, with Buxton being named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year.

He was anointed as the second coming of Mike Trout in Cedar Rapids, where the Kernels had changed affiliation from the Angels to the Twins that season.

Buxton was the fourth-youngest player on the six AFL teams. The Astros didn't send Correa.

There were a couple of Reusses there on a baseball-heavy vacation. The Desert Dogs' lineup for a couple days had Buxton in center, with Rosario at second base and Kepler at both first and in the outfield.

We went back to see the All-Star Game and Buxton wasn't playing because of a left shoulder strain. This would be the time to suggest that unexpected absence was predictive of Buxton's career that would follow.

I'm going to pass on the cheap shot, though, because right now at age 30, we are getting to see a Buxton that some of us — maybe most of us — thought we would never see again.

The greatness has come in stretches. He was the Platinum Glove winner in 2017 as the American League's best defender. Five years later, he was a first-time All-Star and hit a 425-foot home run for the American League.

That game was on July 19, 2022. His season ended on Aug. 1 because of a knee injury that would require surgery.

The Twins' solution was to use Buxton only as a designated hitter in 2023, which was no solution at all. The best part of Buxton always had been his defense in center field.

Now, he couldn't play in the field, and he wasn't getting on base enough as a strikeout-heavy designated hitter for his speed to be demonstrated there, either.

My opinion has never been that Buxton was an athlete who gave into injury too easily. He was a football star as a running back in high school, so case closed on that.

Trouble was, this latest knee injury had to be chronic, right? This would be the final blow in one of the all-time "what-might-have-been" careers in Twins history.

Except today, and for a few weeks now, we have seen the long-hoped-for Buxton.

There was another knee surgery — and then from the start of spring training, it was center field or forget it for Buxton and the Twins.

He didn't hit much to start, and he was shut down for two weeks at the start of May. Might happen again if the knee flares, but he's now hitting .282 and getting extra-base hits, and that's not even what challenges the pessimistic ideas about Buxton's future back in March.

The Buck that Colby Suggs and those other Desert Dogs saw 11 years ago … he has attained flight.

Watching TV the other night (yes, it's possible):

A run was scoring from third as a base hit was being fielded, and in the background — going around second, heading for third — was Buxton eating up the 90 feet in about 10 wondrous strides.

Buck's back, maybe not forever, maybe not for tomorrow, but let's savor those wheels. Because, whether used in the gaps or on the bases, they are unmatched in 64 seasons of Twins baseball.