OAKLAND, Calif. — Royce Lewis’ mother and grandparents, in town with about two dozen family members and friends to revel in the rookie’s arrival in the major leagues, got to spend a little extra unscheduled time with him Wednesday morning. Early Wednesday morning.
They drove him to the airport at 5 a.m., so Lewis could fly to Omaha and rejoin the St. Paul Saints.
“This business can be brutal,” empathized Tyler Duffey, a veteran of those sunrise flights and thanks-and-good-luck demotions. “Life comes at you fast in baseball.”
Yet Lewis had seemingly handled the speed of the game and the weight of his responsibility with aplomb, even hitting a double and a home run in his final game. His batting average of .308 was higher than any Twin who played Tuesday but fellow 22-year-old Gilberto Celestino, and he made the latest in a series of slick fielding plays to kill an Oakland rally.
So maybe the funereal atmosphere in the Twins’ clubhouse after their 5-2 loss — no music, players speaking in whispers or just eating silently — was a tacit recognition of what was lost when the team decided to stick to its plan of keeping Lewis in a Twins uniform only as long as Carlos Correa wasn’t.
“We were all a little shocked. When you get a first-round pick and they come up and do well, that’s a good thing,” Duffey said. “Hopefully he can keep it rolling. But Carlos is here for a reason, too.”
One of the reasons is his willingness to be a leader, so Correa made sure Lewis knew his teammates want him back soon.
“Royce has been playing great. He’s been one of the best players on the field since he’s been up. So yeah, it was sort of a surprise,” said Correa, whose 11-day stint on the injured list with a bruised middle finger ended Wednesday. “He’s just been so electric, so good during this stretch with us. The support from his teammates, it has to mean a lot.”
Players came over and consoled Lewis, Correa said, but the rookie never stopped smiling and reassuring his teammates that he’ll work even harder to return.
“I had a long talk with him, to make sure he goes to Triple-A with the right attitude, knowing that we have his back and want him to be part of what we’re building here, and that he absolutely belongs here,” Correa said. “He took it well, and I know he’ll be back.”
The Twins are aware that fans want Lewis and Correa in the same lineup, a plan that would require Lewis to switch positions after a career spent almost entirely at shortstop. But manager Rocco Baldelli said he doesn’t want such a valuable rookie learning a new position at the major-league level.
“People want to keep him around. I don’t think it’s anything crazy to hear,” the manager said. “But we don’t know necessarily where Royce can play on other spots on the field right now. We’d be kind of just winging it. We don’t like to go off the cuff. We talk about putting guys in position to succeed, and putting a young player in several spots on the field, where they’ve literally never taken a ball in their entire life, that’s not the way to go.”
He’ll get a game or two at different positions in St. Paul, the manager said, but “I don’t want to overemphasize this part of the conversation. He’s going to play shortstop the vast majority of the time.”