Over the weekend, the present author visited Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, Illinois — home to the Cubs’ Midwest League affilliate, the Kane County Cougars — for a game between those same Cougars and Twins affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The objective of the trip was to interview very celebrated Minnesota outfield prospect, and the second-overall pick from last year’s draft, Byron Buxton.
In just his age-19 season, Buxton, who’s nearly as fast as Cincinnati prospect Billy Hamilton, has exhibited a startlingly mature offensive approach, posting nearly equal walk and strikeout rates while also hitting seven home runs in 240 plate appearances. His defensive range and throwing arm are also regarded as elite.
Excerpts from the author’s conversation with Buxton appear below. In addition to printing those excerpts here, the author has taken the liberty of commenting upon other aspects of his experience, as well — either because those aspects are informative (like, regarding the Kane County ballpark, for example) or amusing (like, regarding the author’s incompetence, for example) or both (although probably not both, in most cases).
It is not entirely clear whether this approach has anything like merit. In any case, it has occurred to the author that it’s not the worst possible idea — the litmus test by which he (read: I) composes most of his work.
On Fifth Third Bank Ballpark
As noted above, Kane County’s home park is located in Geneva, Illinois — which town is located on the Western edge of the Chicago metro area, is accessible by Metra (that city’s commuter rail service), and is likely more urbane for its relationship to the city.
After having attended the Cubs-D’backs game on Friday, I spent the evening with some friends who live in Hyde Park, a neighborhood located on Chicago’s South Side which serves as home to the University of Chicago*. Thus it was from that area of the city that I drove to Geneva on Saturday. Google Maps suggests that the drive ought to last approximately an hour. Despite considerable traffic — first on Lake Shore Drive, then on I-55, then on I-90, then on I-290, then on I-88 — that estimate proved to be nearly accurate. Considerable traffic, one concludes, is the rule and not the exception on this route.
*Where fun, notably, goes to die.
Here’s a totally customized Google Map of the trip in question:
Upon Arriving at the Ballpark
I arrived at Fifth Third at approximately 3:30pm CT for a 6:30pm game. It’s entirely possible that, upon approaching the front desk in the office area, that I announced something like “Hello, I’m an important baseball writer” or “I’m a member of the BBWAA, and am consequently important” or “Allow me to introduce myself, etc.” Whatever it was, it was definitely haughty and embarrassing and I’m ashamed of it now.
Shawn Touney, Director of Public Relations for the Cougars, had informed me via email that clubhouses for both teams would be open to media following batting practice and up until an hour prior to game time. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I arrived, batting practice for the home team was aborted due to rain, and the tarp was brought onto the field. My reaction to this was not to make for the visiting clubhouse straightaway — as would have made “logical” “sense” — but rather to pace nervously the main concourse of the stadium and then check my fantasy teams at some length using the press box’s wi-fi connection.
An Encounter Outside the Visitor’s Clubhouse
Recognizing eventually that the rain was unlikely to stop much before the scheduled game time, I resolved to seek out Buxton for an interview.
Finding my way somewhat tentatively — because I’m what’s known as a “coward” — to the hallway area outside the relevant clubhouse, I was greeted by a stout black gentleman, about 40 or so years old, in a Cedar Rapids Kernels jersey.
“Hey, there,” he said, his hands on top of his head with fingers threaded through each other, so as to suggest Maximum Leisure.
“Hello,” I said. And then in a voice intended to project authority, but really only conveying how I was attempting to project authority: “I’m, uh, looking to talk to someone.”
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“Ha!” he more or less shouted, before smiling and sharing a glance with a nearby and much lankier gentleman, also in uniform. “How’d I know you were going to say that?”
After which question there was a brief pause. “Because he’s very good?” I stated/asked in the very lamest voice.
“Yeah,” he replied — or probably replied (I can’t remember everything) — before turning and pointing into the clubhouse behind him. “Right there.”
Right “there” was actually two players: Buxton himself and also a white teammate manhandling an iPhone in such a way as to suggest that he was either (a) playing some manner of racing game or (b) attempting to exorcise it of menacing spirits.
An Arkansas-Wichita State college game was on a television in the corner of the clubhouse to my left. Buxton was manipulating some manner of green Play-Doh in his left hand. I asked if the seat next to him was taken — it wasn’t — and then introduced myself awkwardly:
And even despite that strained greeting, the remainder of our conversation bore a startling resemblance to a Professional Baseball Interview, some notable moments of which follow below.
Byron Buxton on How Pitchers Are Adjusting to Him
“At the beginning of the season, I saw a lot of fastballs, fastballs in, and I was hitting them hard. Now, some pitchers are pitching me backwards, and I’m hitting the ball the other way pretty good.
“Usually, after my first at-bat, I see a curveball or changeup first pitch. If I see it real well, I’ll take a hack at it. If I miss it, [I’ll] step out and get ready to go again. Most of the time, I usually take the pitch.”
Buxton on His Favorite Pitch to Hit
“Middle. Middle-away. Fastball or hanging curveball.”
Buxton on Adjusting to Advanced Breaking Balls
“In the past I had trouble [with them]. Like, Gulf Coast League and Rookie Ball. It was hard for me to adjust to breaking pitches coming out of high school. But during spring training I saw breaking pitch after breaking pitch, and I sat back and drove the ball. So far, I’ve still got the same approach, hitting the ball the opposite way — and, if they come in, I just turn on it.”
Byron Buxton on His Swing Plane, Which Is Generally Considered Flat
“I’m just trying to keep a level swing, drive the ball in the gaps. Just trying to get on, get base hits. [M]y teammates can drive me in.”
Buxton on Scoring from Second in High School on a Sac Fly
“All I remember was, I knew it was hit to the right fielder, and I was tagging up. He caught the ball, and I took off towards third. When I looked up, my third-base coach was still telling me to come, and I just kept going.”
The author: “Had you seen that before?”
Buxton on Georgia-Based Prospects Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows
“Matter of fact, I talked to Austin earlier today. We were just chatting. I wished him good luck in the draft.”