Byron Buxton wore a big smile after his first at-bat against Major League pitching. The Twins organization probably had even bigger smiles as the club got an eye-opening glimpse of Buxton's potential.
A 19-year-old center fielder who was the Twins' top pick last June (second overall), Buxton stepped up to the plate against the Pirates' A.J. Burnett in a Spring Training game.
Buxton belted a single, and the fun started.
"I stole a couple of bags, ran around and had fun," Buxton said. "I scored, and as I was going back to the dugout, I probably had the biggest smile I've ever had since I've been playing baseball.
"I didn't know I was going to Bradenton [to play the Pirates] until two days before the game," added the 6-foot-2, 189-pound native of Baxley, Ga. "I was anxious and excited but not nervous. I just went out and was patient at the plate.
"It was a chance for me to see how far I've come, if I could take adversity, take pressure," Buxton recalled. "But it's still a game."
Buxton is staring down adversity in the opening weeks of the Midwest League season. Despite frigid weather and a week that included four consecutive postponements, the righty-hitting Buxton has blistered the ball for Cedar Rapids. He is hitting .404 (23-of-57) in 16 games with two homers, 10 RBIs and seven stolen bases.
"I'm just trying to focus on doing my job and helping my team out," he said. "Every time I get to the plate, I'm feeling very confident. I'm working hard on learning to be patient and disciplined. I'm looking for my pitches and working on driving the ball into the gap."
According to Buxton, the biting Midwest cold has been a challenge.
"The cold definitely took some getting used to," Buxton said. "I'm from South Georgia. I'm not used to being this cold. I was just trying not to think of the cold weather and play my game."
Buxton said he isn't looking at his numbers and dreaming of a quick climb up the ladder.
"I'm being patient with my development," Buxton said. "I know my role here, and I'm trying to do what I can. I'm focused on helping my team. Whatever happens, happens. If I get moved up, I get moved up. If not, I still keep working hard."
Seeing pink: The South Bend Silver Hawks have taken a page from former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry's playbook as far as trying to psyche out an opponent. Fry, a psychology major, had the visitor's locker room at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium painted pink, because it creates a soothing effect. The visiting clubhouse at South Bend's Coveleski Stadium is now painted pink, complete with pink fixtures and garish couch covers.
"It's definitely girly," Great Lakes catcher Tyler Ogle said. "It has a calming effect, for sure, but by game time, I hope we're definitely more aggressive. It's kind of funny. When I came in the clubhouse, I laughed, but you get over it quickly and you don't notice it anymore. But it is pink. Very pink."
South Bend manager Mark Haley said that pink may not work against a team in baseball.
"Opponent managers are fine with it," Haley said of the psychological play. "It doesn't even faze them. One guy said, 'This isn't football. We're baseball guys. It doesn't matter to us. Pink, yellow, we're just here to shut it down, and we're going to relax no matter what.' Who knows? The pink might help them."
James Baldwin of Great Lakes wasn't happy with the color scheme.
"When I walked in, I was like, 'Wow,'" Baldwin said. "Everybody was saying, 'What is going on? Is this a joke?' I kind of got mad about it. We're definitely going to take it on the field and show them what we're about."
Shoulders to lean on: Kane County's Rock Shoulders homered in both games of a doubleheader to lead the Kane County Cougars to a doubleheader sweep of the Quad Cities River Bandits. Shoulders, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound left-handed-hitting first baseman, was 5-of-6 in the doubleheader. He is hitting .418 in 16 games and leads the Midwest League with four homers.
Peoria bailout? A special meeting will be held next week by the city of Peoria to explore ways to help the Chiefs' baseball franchise, which is reportedly $4 million in debt. The club has been seeking public and private solutions to deal with the situation.