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When the Twins promoted Michael Cuddyer to their major league roster for the first time in September 2001, the team was closing out its’ first winning season in a decade, manager Tom Kelly was set to retire and an offseason filled with contraction rumors loomed on the horizon. In 2011, after decade that featured six division championships and ended in a 99-loss debacle, Cuddyer and the franchise that drafted him in 1997 parted ways.
The only player to witness the rise and fall of the Twins Central Division Dynasty in its’ entirety, Cuddyer is currently winding down the final season of a three-year contact in Colorado. A year after capturing the National League batting crown with a .331 average, the 35-year-old has been plagued by injuries in 2014, appearing in just 44 games so far for the Rockies.
While visiting Denver last week, I caught up with the 14-year veteran and Twins fan favorite for the first time in three years.
DZ: You’ve had, in some ways, a challenging year with the injuries and everything. As the year winds down here, how would you put a bow on it all?
CUDDYER: I think that’s a good word - challenging - is a fair word. Injuries, team success, things of that nature - it kind of is what it is, you have to roll with it, deal with it and go out there and play the best you can.
DZ: Now that you are back, how important is it for you personally to finish strong?
CUDDYER: It’s always better to play well when you get out there and get a chance to play. Whether you were injured during the year or not. When you are out on the field, it’s always good to get out there and try and have success.
DZ: Free agency is coming up here again, how much does that play on your mind?
CUDDYER: Not really that much. It’s a little different this time around. Things are not as important this time around as the first time you go through free agency. We’ll see what happens, I am not a fortune teller, I don’t have a crystal ball, so I don’t know where I’ll end up or how the offseason will transpire. All you can ask for is to be healthy going into the offseason.
DZ: You are 35 now, which is mature for an athlete, what’s easier for you about the game and what’s harder?
CUDDYER: I think nothing has really changed in that respect. The game hasn’t gotten any easier, but, at the same time, I don’t think things have gotten harder. I think you just go out there and try to continue to compete, you don’t really worry about how things progress - it’s not an issue. You just go out and play the game; if you are good enough to keep playing, you are good enough to keep playing.
DZ: You’ve got to know a lot more than you did 10 years ago, don’t you? The pitchers if nothing else.
CUDDYER: (laughs) If we are talking about a 10 year span, yeah - a lot is easier then. You know guys, you know the league more. If you go year to year, things don’t really change that much.
DZ: In Minnesota we always knew you were a good player, an All Star and everything up there, but I think everybody was a little surprised when you were contending for (and winning) the batting title last year; what was that experience like?
CUDDYER: I think that’s a combination of I got to know the National League, I matured a little more as a hitter. I think things just progressed and the fact that I started getting confidence. Any time you get confidence as a hitter, that’s a snow ball effect. Now I believe I should hit, maybe not .330, but I should go out there and have success when I get onto the baseball field. That’s something you gain as you mature and you continue to play, you gain that confidence and you gain that expectation of yourself.
DZ: That’s got to mean a lot to you too, you’ll always be in the history books; (NL) Batting Champion 2013: Michael Cuddyer.
CUDDYER: Yeah, it’s definitely something I am extremely proud of because it’s not something that happened overnight even though it looks like it going from a .275 career hitter to a batting champion, it looks like it did happen overnight. It’s something that was a long, steady progression that a lot of work has gone into and a lot of work goes into to sustain that.
DZ: When you came up the Twins you guys contended basically every year. You played meaningful games in September other than your last year there…and then the last couple of years here, not so much. Looking back on that did you almost take it for granted when you were younger?
CUDDYER: Yeah, I think so. I think when you are winning every year, year in and year out, you don’t realize how hard it is to win in this league. Four bad years now that I’ve had on the team side of things. You realize how hard it is and how many things have to go your way in order to have success in this league from the team aspect.
DZ: Let’s go back to the 2011 season a little bit. Obviously, you guys has so much success before that and the bottom just fell out. I think so many people were so surprised; could you in any way, shape or form sense that things weren’t the same going into it?
CUDDYER: I don’t think so because our team really wasn’t all that different from 2010 to 2011. I think we did lose a couple of spark plugs on that team: Punto, Guerrier, Crain; guys that were part of that core that we lost. Those guys were tough to replace and it may sound corny…but there is something to be said about having those types of players and those types of guys in clubhouse that make the team run.
DZ: I always thought that Mike Redmond…
CUDDYER: Mike Redmond is another one..
DZ: He kind of gave you guys a little edge…
DZ: Back in Minnesota who do you keep in touch with - former Twins teammates?
CUDDYER: I kept in touch with Morny obviously, that’s how he came over here. That’s really pretty much it. I keep in touch with Mike Herman, some of the front office guys, some of the clubbies (clubhouse attendants) as well. I spent a lot of time with those guys the decade I was there. As far as players were concerned, Morny was pretty much the only guy.
DZ: The Metrodome is history now…what are your thoughts on that building?
CUDDYER: I loved it, I loved it. Obviously, it wasn’t the nicest place to play, people didn’t enjoy coming and watching games there very much, but it was home to me. It was my first big league home. It was home for a long time; I played more big league games in that stadium than any other stadium. It means a lot to me, I had a lot of special memories and I was sad to see it get torn down, albeit it needed to be (laughs).
See more of David Zingler’s player interviews: