Jun 16, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; New Hampshire native Sam Fuld, his uniform characteristically dirt-stained as he camped under a long fly ball off the bat of David Ortiz, was back at Fenway Park for the first time as a Twin Monday night. (USA TODAY Sports)
BOSTON- GIVEN the uncertainty that defined his offseason, Sam Fuld had a sense that this might be an unsettled season.
It began when, after three years, and shortly after he turned 32, the Rays decided they wouldn’t tender the outfielder a contract for 2014. He became a free agent, and remained one until early February, when he rebuffed Tampa Bay’s offer to return under a minor-league deal and signed with Oakland because he believed the Athletics offered a better chance to make the majors.
The Durham, N.H., native was right, and he made the big leagues, but was subsequently waived after just seven games. The Twins claimed him, but less than two weeks later he slammed into an outfield wall and sustained a concussion that forced him to spend a month on the disabled list.
“I knew that there was the potential of this season being kind of crazy, and it definitely has been to begin with,” Fuld said, “but I was prepared for it, so I’m glad it’s worked out so far.”
He can say that, in part, because he has a good perspective after spending parts of seven years in The Show. “Any time you can put a big-league uniform on,” he said, “you’ve got to be happy.”
But he can also say it because it appears as though, in the end, things have worked out positively for Fuld, given the circumstances in which he found himself as he came back to Fenway Park this week.
The exception being a pinch-running appearance in his return, he has been Minnesota’s starting center fielder in four of the five games since he was reinstated from the DL, and that usage is a continuation of the way manager Ron Gardenhire had been using him before he got hurt.
He debuted with the Twins on April 23 and played every possible inning until the severe headaches of his head injury forced him to sit down starting May 8. Fuld played one game in left, and three in right, but — particularly with 24-year-old Aaron Hicks nursing a strained shoulder and struggling at the plate — he has at least for the time being established himself as the Twins’ center field.
“I do like this,” said the left-handed hitting product of Phillips Exeter, who batted ninth against southpaw Jon Lester on Tuesday. “It’s a great organization, great city, great ballpark. I’m definitely happy.”
Fuld has cooled since his sizzling start in Minnesota — he totaled nine hits in his first five games — but his eighth-inning double gave the club its best scoring opportunity on Monday. He also walked for the second time in three games in that contest, perhaps indicating that he’s finding his swing again after “a long month and change of just sitting around” waiting for the concussion symptoms to subside.
That was difficult, he said, as was moving on from a Tampa team with which he established himself as major leaguer. He’d carved out a role with the Rays, appearing in 119 games, including 71 off the bench, where his speed and defense could be most effectively utilized on a situational basis — but apparently that wasn’t enough for the team to overlook a .199 batting average.
“I enjoyed my time there a lot,” Fuld said. “It was tough. Had a lot of good relationships there, enjoyed playing baseball down there. It’s the nature of the game, though; everybody knows there are only a select few players who get to play on one team for their whole career. We’re all prepared for it.”
Indeed, Fuld was. He knew things would be different this year. He knew things could get a little crazy. But Tuesday morning he was supposed to have breakfast with family coming down from New Hampshire. Then Tuesday night he was roaming Fenway’s outfield.
That’d make it seem as though things have, so far, worked out fine.
“It’s really good to be back playing,” he said. “And it’s always fun to come back here.”
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.