Cuddyer's homers kept teammate off 9/11 flight

Cuddyer's homers kept teammate off 9/11 flight

Cuddyer's homers kept teammate off 9/11 flight
DETROIT -- It's not very often that a pair of home runs can save someone's life.

But for Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer, he essentially did just that in 2001 while playing in the Eastern League playoffs with the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats.

Cuddyer hit a game-winning, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 1 to help the Rock Cats to an early 1-0 series lead over the Norwich Navigators before helping New Britain clinch the series with a go-ahead shot in Game 4.

Those homers turned out to be crucial not just for the Rock Cats' title hopes, but for the lives of Cuddyer's teammate, Brad Thomas, and his wife, Kylie.

Thomas and his wife had purchased tickets for American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles on Sept. 11, 2001, in case New Britain was eliminated from the postseason. The couple would then fly from Los Angeles back to Thomas' native Australia.

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But Thomas and his wife never took that flight because the Rock Cats won the series. Flight 11, on that fateful and unforgettable morning, was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center.

"He credits me for saving his life," Cuddyer said. "I mean, I don't know about that. It was just a twist of fate."

Thomas, who is currently on the Tigers' 60-day disabled list with a left elbow injury, told his stunned New Britain teammates that day about how he was supposed to be on that flight.

The Rock Cats were scheduled to begin the Eastern League finals against the Reading Phillies on Sept. 11, so the club showed up at the ballpark despite the news about the attacks on the Twin Towers.

But teammates were in shock over the attacks, especially considering Thomas' unbelievable story, and the series was eventually cancelled four days later, with New Britain and Reading being named co-champions.

"It was numbness," Cuddyer said. "I'm sure the whole country was like that as well. You're just numb because of all of the events and what transpired after that."

It was a crazy week for Cuddyer, who was then given the news on Sept. 15 that he was called up by the Twins for the first time in his career. Cuddyer made the 1,300-mile drive all the way from New Britain to Minneapolis in time for the club's first game after the attacks against the Tigers on Sept. 18.

He made his Major League debut five days later, going 1-for-2 with a double and a walk, but said the events leading up his first game made it all bittersweet.

"I think it put everything in perspective," Cuddyer said. "At any moment something like that can happen. The last thing you want to do is go play baseball."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.