KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The soon-to-be wealthiest resident of Baxley, Ga., was in a festive mood Thursday, and it had nothing to do with his big pay raise kicking in.
"I just go out there and enjoy it," Byron Buxton said of the first day of the 2023 baseball season. "You don't play the game forever, so every Opening Day is a little more enjoyable."
Yep, not even 30, and the Twins' most electric player already is turning introspective.
It's hard to blame him, though, because while Buxton's Twins career, eight years in, has frequently been breathtaking, it's been almost equally exasperating, his game-changing presence so often absent because of physical trauma.
Since the day he debuted in June 2015, the Twins have played 586 games with Buxton in the lineup — and won 54.9 percent of them — and 573 games without him, winning only 43.6 percent of the time.
That upside is so tantalizing, the Twins will pay Buxton, beginning this week, a little more than $80,000 per day for the next six seasons, and they'll gladly multiply that number if he stays healthy enough to win awards and surpass milestones.
He has become beloved around Target Field, where Buxton jerseys are big sellers and 18-month-old little girls like Louisa Baldelli recognize him.
"My daughter knows who Buxton is, what he looks like, and that she really likes him," Twins manager and Louisa's father, Rocco Baldelli, said in amazement. "Who is that on the wall? 'Buxton.' She nails it."
But with fame and fortune secured, Buxton said, he wants something that those millions of dollars won't buy, that all those fans can't give him. He is troubled, he said, that his career has yet to include even a single postseason victory, let alone a championship.
"I don't care what year it is, my goal is to win a ring. That's the ultimate goal," Buxton said as spring training wound down. "All the other white noise — [being an] MVP or a Gold Glove? Nah. I want to win."
Which is why he was smiling Thursday, as he looked around the Twins' clubhouse. Carlos Correa, the Lennon to his McCartney, was in the opposite corner of the room, equally devoted to the same goal as his baseball partner. And surrounding those two was, as Buxton sees it, the most balanced, capable set of teammates with whom he's ever played.
"We've got the right pieces to do what we want to do, and that's win a ring," Buxton said. "We've got a great group of guys in here, [and] we're all on the same page. It makes our job a little bit easier when you can go out and be yourself and not try to overdo it."
That formula worked on Opening Day, with Buxton contributing two hits, including a triple that led to the game's first run in Minnesota's 2-0 victory over the Royals.
"Buxton swung the bat really well today," Baldelli said. "It's funny how he's always in the middle of things, even on Day One."
Actually, he's developed that swing without being in the middle of something traditionally fundamental to most major-leaguers: batting practice.
Oh, Buxton gets plenty of swings in, dozens and dozens each day. Just, in batting cages under the stands, out of sight of the ballpark's early arrivals who encourage players to show off their upper-deck horsepower.
"Some people need it. But I kind of figured out it's like home-run derby. You just go out there and make yourself feel good," Buxton explained. "But the swing I take in batting practice ain't the same one I take in the game."
By his count, Buxton hasn't taken pregame swings on the field in more than two seasons. Former hitting coach James Rowson gave him dispensation to skip it, he said.
"I was like, 'I hate BP.' I literally was like, 'I dread it.' And [Rowson] said, 'Why you go?'" Buxton recounted. " 'Because I'm a team player, and everybody goes.' And he [said] don't take it. So I didn't, and I think I went 2-for-3 with a walk, and that was it. I ain't taking it no more."
He may make a couple of exceptions this season as the Twins visit some National League ballparks he is unfamiliar with, but mostly he prefers his current routine of off-field preparations, especially now that he'll spend the first month or more of the season trying to keep his knees healthy as the Twins' designated hitter.
There's a danger of overthinking every at-bat when you're not playing the field, he said he learned, so he tries to keep things simple. He fields a few one-hoppers in center field and keeps his arm strong in preparation for returning to center field when the weather warms up.
"Then I do my training room stuff, my weight room stuff. It's just a routine to get me ready to play," Buxton said. He's added a little more video time to keep his mechanics steady, too. "It definitely frees up my time to make sure I'm ready for the game," he said.