As Cuddyer has grown, so has his hitting streak
Rockies outfielder at 27 games, but baseball far from his only passion
DENVER -- The Rockies' Michael Cuddyer is more popular than ever because of his current 27-game hitting streak. The notoriety for doing one thing so consistently sheds some light on an outstanding, but under-the-radar, player.
In a sense, though, it's unfortunate. Versatility, not a single skill, is what is most special about Cuddyer, both in and out of uniform.
Cuddyer plays right field and first base for the Rockies, and has significant Major League time at second and third. But Cuddyer's well-rounded nature can't be contained by the field's dimensions.
|2 Outs||.361 (13-for-36)|
|w/Runners On||.388 (19-for-49)|
|w/None On||.359 (23-for-64)|
On a Flickr site highlighting Cuddyer's personal photography, many shots are of Major League ballparks, but there is a series from Disney World in Orlando, a group showing a swooping hawk against a background of fall foliage around Washington, D.C. and another set featuring cacti and other Arizona desert plant life.
There's even one from the Denver Zoo entitled, "Ummm ... Friendly Bears," and we'll leave it at that. Those are the highlights of just one page of 21, carrying a total of 2,059 photos.
Cuddyer once was so deep into movies he collected nearly 1,000 DVDs. His music tastes range from pop to country to hip-hop, to classical numbers and movie scores.
"I don't define myself by being No. 3," Cuddyer said. "I hate using myself in the third person. I'm not just a baseball player. It's the old cliche. It's my profession, it's not my life. I've got three kids at home. I've got a beautiful, loving wife. I've got other interests. There are other things in life than baseball. You have to be well-rounded, or else what's the point?"
The ability to see the big picture has allowed Cuddyer to enjoy his streak, which is the longest in the Majors since Dan Uggla hit in 33 straight for the Braves in 2011. Cuddyer also has reached base in 46 straight, the longest since Kevin Millar had a 52-game run for the Orioles in 2007.
Writers and broadcasters, mindful of superstitions, feel Cuddyer out to see if he'll discuss it. Cuddyer laughs easily and talks. After dribbling a hit through the infield in his final at-bat of Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Giants to extend the streak to 27, Cuddyer didn't claim it wasn't on his mind.
Rather than treat the streak as a burden, he acknowledges the little pleasures that come with it, such as a group of fans in right field who stand and cheer as he takes his position. He's enjoying it while it lasts. No one has beaten Joe DiMaggio's 56-game streak in 1941, and he sees no reason to believe some ritual is going to allow him to do so.
"It's probably the wrong thing to say, but I don't really expect to hit in 29 more games," said Cuddyer, who entered play on Monday second in the National League with a .344 average, along with 14 home runs, 16 doubles and 48 RBIs. "That record is going to be safe for a long, long time."
But that's not to say he's immune to at least a little of baseball's ritualistic behavior.
Early in the streak, Cuddyer -- hitting .372 with seven homers and 19 RBIs during the run -- missed five games with bruised ribs. He doubled in his return on June 14, and celebrated it by not shaving. Now it is a full salt-and-pepper beard.
Cuddyer began growing into the player and person he is -- one the Rockies felt they had to have in the winter of 2011, when they signed him to a three-year deal after 11 seasons with the Twins -- back when there was peach fuzz, at most.
Cuddyer was the Twins' first-round Draft pick out of Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va., in 1997. Starting in instructional ball and the next season at Class A Fort Wayne, he was immediately paired with the team's supplemental first-round pick in '98, Matt LeCroy.
"He really taught me how to be a good person in this lifestyle," Cuddyer said. "He went to college, was an All-American, played on the Olympic team and was someone I really looked up to.
"He wasn't a big partier. There's nothing wrong with partying, but an 18-year-old, first time away from home, you can definitely be strayed in the wrong direction. He was one that never did that. He taught me to put the value on your profession."
LeCroy played his entire career with the Twins alongside Cuddyer, and marvels at how Cuddyer has grown. LeCroy now manages the Nationals' Double-A affiliate and offers Cuddyer as a living example of a professional.
"I'm really excited for him and his family -- his wife, his kids, his parents," LeCroy said. "He's been a very underrated player for a long time, and now he's getting his due. I hope he keeps doing it. He deserves the credit and the accolades that come with it."
Having played in small markets Minnesota and Colorado means he's still under the radar. With Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig having hit .436 since his June 3 debut, Cuddyer might not even get top billing when the teams meet for three games at Coors Field starting Tuesday night.
But those within the game appreciate Cuddyer's accomplishment.
"It's pretty impressive to be able to put together this kind of streak," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "It's tough to do in this league. If it's not being talked about, I'm not too sure I understand why."
Part of Cuddyer's many interests stem from basic curiosity. Part of it also is his desire to be a good teammate.
"I can't be baseball all the time, because I feel like you're shutting out so many parts of your life and other people's lives that you can experience," Cuddyer said. "I'm so interested in other guys' lives, what their likes and dislikes are, because that may be something that I'd enjoy doing."
The person Cuddyer is off the field -- at home with his wife, Claudia, 5-year-old son, Casey Jonathan, and nearly 17-month-old twin daughters, Chloe and Madeline -- can't be separated from his approach on the field.
"People ask me, 'Why do you play the game the way you do? Why do you hustle?'" Cuddyer said. "I go home and I've got a 5-year-old who gets more excited to play his imaginary baseball game than anybody in this clubhouse to play a Major League Baseball game.
"I get a daily reminder of why I loved this game as a kid. I feel I would be doing my 5-year-old a disrespect if I came here and didn't play hard."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.