Cuddyer not acting his age in Mile High city
The 34-year-old is peaking as Rockies seek first National League West title
SAN DIEGO -- Somewhere in Minnesota's "Land of 10,000 Lakes" there must be a fountain of youth or mysterious elixir explaining how Michael Cuddyer, David Ortiz and Torii Hunter are laughing in the face of Father Time.
Twins teammates in their early years -- including 2002 when their World Series championship dreams were crushed by the eventual champion Angels in the American League Championship Series -- Cuddyer, Ortiz and Hunter will share some fond memories when they meet in New York as All-Stars. Ortiz and Hunter will be AL teammates, with Cuddyer representing the National League.
At a point when logic dictates their careers ought to fall into some stage of decline, Cuddyer, Ortiz and Hunter are shining as brightly as ever.
"This is pretty special," Cuddyer, the Rockies' right fielder, said of his second All-Star Game selection. "To be voted in by the players, recognized by my peers, that means a lot."
Cuddyer, whose career-best 27-game hitting streak was snapped on July 2 by All-Star Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, appears to be peaking at age 34.
Trailing only the Cardinals' Yadier Molina in the NL, Cuddyer is hitting a career-high .337 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs for a club that is a threat in the NL West if it can keep Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler on the field.
In the 21st year of its mile-high existence, Colorado is seeking its first NL West title. The Rockies have reached the postseason three times, and the World Series once, getting swept by the Red Sox in 2007 after taking down the Phillies and Diamondbacks in the NL playoffs. The Phillies knocked out the Rockies in the 2009 NLDS.
"This division reminds me of the American League Central, where nobody was running away all those years," Cuddyer, signed by the Rockies as a free agent after the 2011 season, said. "Coming into mid-August and September, everybody had a chance. It usually came down to that last month with everybody controlling their own destiny, because you were playing teams in the division."
Six times in a nine-year stretch, ending in 2010, the Twins won the AL Central behind manager Ron Gardenhire.
"A lot of people say we overachieved in Minnesota," said Cuddyer, who made his first All-Star team at 32 in 2011. "But we had a lot of good players, guys who knew how to play the game the right way."
Cuddyer was 23 and just getting started in 2002, playing 41 regular-season games before hitting .385 in 13 at-bats in the ALDS against the A's and going 1-for-5 against the Angels.
Hunter, at 26, was an established Twins star in center field, on his way to nine Rawlings Gold Gloves for the Twins before gracing the Angels for five seasons and now the Tigers. He's an All-Star for the fifth time, hitting .305 for the Tigers.
Ortiz, also 26 in '02, hit .272 with 20 homers and an OPS of .839 as the Twins' primary DH. Non-tendered after the season as the Twins elected to go with Matt LeCroy in the DH role, Ortiz landed in Boston. The legend of "Big Papi" was born.
At 37, like good buddy Hunter, Ortiz continues to bang away. An All-Star for the ninth time, he's hitting .331 with 19 homers and 65 RBIs. He stands with Edgar Martinez as the game's most successful designated hitters.
Cuddyer, Ortiz and Hunter grew up together professionally with a Minnesota organization that churned out such high-caliber performers as Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, A.J. Pierzynski, Kyle Lohse and Grant Balfour.
"I think about it a lot," Cuddyer said of his formative years with the Twins. "We had some good teams with some great players. It just shows how hard it is to win."
The Twins were unable to get past the ALDS after that 2002 ALCS ride ended in five games in Anaheim. Four times they were eliminated by the Yankees, once by the A's.
Cuddyer did his part in postseason play, hitting .338 with an .845 OPS in 78 at-bats.
Now he's doing everything in his power to help drive rookie manager Walt Weiss' team through a wide-open NL West.
"Parity is always good," Cuddyer said. "It should make for a fun rest of the season, a fun second half. It's always fun when you come to the park in a pennant race. Everybody gets into it, from the players to the fans."
The Rockies have been getting stellar pitching from starters Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood and Jorge De La Rosa. They also have a deep bullpen featuring Rex Brothers and Rafael Betancourt. Their staff has yielded 32 fewer homers than the offense has produced.
"They're doing the job, keeping us in games," Cuddyer said. "It's all you can ask for -- especially in Colorado."
Respected for his good nature as well as his talent and competitive nature, Cuddyer is thoroughly enjoying his best season.
"I'm not supposed to be doing this at my age," he said, beaming. "Right?"
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.