His fastball has been clocked at 99 miles per hour. His running speed has been described as among the best in baseball. He’s hit a ball into the top row of the bleachers at Wrigley Field. He snagged the first MLB five-star catch of 2017. But if you ask Byron Buxton about his favorite time in sports, his answer might surprise you. “Senior year, playing on my high school football team, was the funnest, funnest year.”
As a child, Byron played baseball – adding football and basketball as he aged. “I grew up playing basketball, because I wanted to be like my dad,” he recalled. “But the older I got, the more I fell in love with baseball too.” Beginning in eighth grade, Byron started on his school’s football team, even as his baseball skills were getting noticed by scouts.
When senior year rolled around, Byron wanted to join in the fun of a final year of football—to the dismay of friends and family. “That was the toughest thing for me. Nobody wanted me to play football. The coach was scared I’d get hurt, and risk my baseball chances.” Even before his career started, Byron was facing the worry that every athlete has nagging in the back of their head: an injury that could change everything.
In the end, Byron turned to the source of support and advice he had always relied on: his dad. “My father told me to do it, and to give the game 110%. To not take the game for granted, to keep it in perspective, and to enjoy the time I had to play it. Because he and I both knew, the time would come when I would not be able to play football anymore.” Much to the relief of everyone, Byron enjoyed a full season without injury.
Fast-forward a few years, and Byron became one of the most-watched, most-celebrated defensive players in Major League Baseball, drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in 2012. His luck held in terms of injuries until spring training in 2014, when he sprained his left wrist diving for a ball. “I’d had no injuries, nothing that made me miss playing time at all. The moment I was hurt, well, that was the scary part. I just didn’t know what it meant.”
Byron immediately went to TRIA, the team physicians for the Minnesota Twins. “I was expecting it to be overwhelming, and it was nothing like that. As soon as I walked in, the doctors and nurses were very smooth, very caring and very helpful. I had already gone on the negative side, thinking I wouldn’t play baseball this year, that I was letting the team down. Maybe five minutes later, they were already giving me the rundown on what was going on, and shifted me to the positive side of the situation: it wasn’t as bad as I thought, and I knew how long I would have to sit out before I could get back to working hard again. They’re the best of the best.”
And despite subsequent injuries, Byron has maintained his positive attitude and 110% work ethic. “I take it very seriously to help the next person out beside me. Whether it’s an outfielder, infielder, pitcher, anything I can do to get us back in the dugout, swing bats, put runs on the board – I’ll dive for the ball or run into a wall. I will never take this game for granted – or leave any regrets.”