Cuddyer feeling right at home in Rockies lineup

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 19, 2012
(Eds: With AP Photos.) By PAT GRAHAM AP Sports Writer Michael Cuddyer has settled in at the plate much faster than at his new place. Then again, feeling at home on the field was always the easy part for the Colorado Rockies outfielder. Moving in to a new neighborhood, finding a pediatrician for his kids, a preschool for his son and a convenient grocery store open for late-night milk runs, well, that simply takes more time. Cuddyer is off to a torrid .370 start this season even as he settles his family into their new surroundings. His wife and kids just arrived from Chesapeake, Va., last week and they're still arranging their rented house. That's what off days like Thursday are for, not to mention playing a little backyard baseball with his nearly 4-year-old son, Casey. But while Cuddyer may still get lost traveling around the Mile High City, once he sets foot inside the stadium he's on very familiar ground. There, in the batter's box or out in right field, he's been as good as advertised. ''More so,'' Todd Helton said without hesitation. ''I don't know if you could get a better free agent signing than him, with everything he brings to the table.'' A powerful bat. Solid glove. Leadership. Those were the attributes the Rockies were seeking when they signed him to a three-year deal last December. Cuddyer has quickly emerged as a voice in the clubhouse, the player who youngsters can turn to for advice and tips. He's very approachable and always available. He learned from one of the best. When Cuddyer was with the Minnesota Twins, he watched the late Harmon Killebrew go about his business of helping everyone in his path even long after he stepped away from the game after a Hall of Fame career. Cuddyer decided he wanted to be just like Killebrew, who carried himself in an unassuming manner. Killebrew always had time to talk to players and never seemed put out by a request from a fan. So that's Cuddyer's style, too. He even carefully writes his name on autographs so kids can decipher the signature down the road. Just like Killebrew once did. ''Fantastic guy,'' Cuddyer said of Killebrew, who died last May at the age of 74 after a bout with esophageal cancer. ''A quality person who treated everybody the same, no matter if you worked at the stadium, were his best friend or a teammate or a manager. He treated everyone exactly the same. I try to do that.'' These days, the only people Cuddyer treats rudely are opposing pitchers. He's wearing them out, especially at Coors Field where he's batting .353 with one homer and six RBIs through nine games. To think, he once struggled at this hitter-friendly park. As a visitor coming in with the Twins, he was just 1 for 12. Like it a little more now? ''As a hitter, you go through parts of the season where it doesn't matter what stadium you're playing in, because you feel like there's so much room,'' the 33-year-old Cuddyer said. ''And then you go through parts of the season where you feel like there's 13 infielders and 12 outfielders. ''Right now, I'm seeing the ball well. So, yeah, it seems good out there. We'll see when I'm going through a tough spell if it feels the same.'' Cuddyer made a difficult decision to leave the Twins in the offseason. A REAL difficult decision, especially after being drafted by the organization with the ninth overall pick in 1997 and spending his entire career with Minnesota. ''I knew everybody in that organization. My wife and I made a lot of friends in that community,'' Cuddyer said. ''But we had to start from scratch there, too.'' Although he spent 11 seasons with the Twins, he never purchased a home, always opting to rent. His family will do the same in Denver as well. ''I always felt like buying was the kiss of death,'' he said. Doesn't a long-term deal buy peace of mind? ''People say when you sign a three-year deal that you're locked in,'' said Cuddyer, whose wife had twin girls two weeks before he signed with the Rockies. ''You just never know. So we rent. But you never know. Maybe we will (buy) - you can't say never.'' The Cuddyers have moved into a house near a park with a baseball diamond - a perfect spot for his son to take batting practice. The other day, his son launched a deep shot out of the infield and proclaimed it a grand slam by Troy Tulowitzki. Not dad? ''No, it was Tulo who hit the grand slam,'' Cuddyer said, laughing. Tulowitzki was actually the one who lured Cuddyer to Colorado. The smooth-fielding shortstop called up Cuddyer and sold him on the culture of the clubhouse. Turns out, Tulowitzki was the only player who reached out to Cuddyer in the free agency process and it meant a lot to him. ''Showed an excitement level and made me excited,'' Cuddyer said. ''Every baseball player wants to be comfortable. It seemed like here was going to be a seamless transition.'' So far, it has been. On Wednesday, Cuddyer launched a two-run homer to left in a win over San Diego. But his second homer of the season came at the cost of a toenail. Two pitches before his towering shot, Cuddyer fouled a pitch off his big left toe. He eventually left the game to get it drained, but doesn't expect to miss any time. Next on the agenda for Cuddyer are these tasks: Finding a pediatrician, preschool, convenient grocery store and a favorite restaurant. ''The easy part is going to the new job,'' Cuddyer said. ''That's what you know and that's what you are comfortable doing. The hard part is moving to a new city, figuring out the neighborhood, schools, pediatricians, that's the hard part. ''Slowly but surely, though, things are starting to become normal.''
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