In a pregame ceremony gone awry, the Mariners starting pitcher became a landing spot for a large feathered friend.
MINNEAPOLIS — Well, he is nicknamed “Big Maple” and there is a commercial featuring him taking care of a nest of eggs in his hat.
But on Thursday, it went a step further for James Paxton and the Mariners.
During the Twins’ elaborate pregame ceremony for their home opener, which also included the U.S. gold medal curling team rolling out the first pitch, a bald eagle was supposed to fly across the field as the national anthem was being sung and a flag was unfurled in the outfield. It’s spectacle that is common for big sporting events.
But this eagle decided that after flying across the field, he would stop not on his handler’s shoulder, but instead on the shoulder of Paxton, who had been warming up in the outfield with catcher David Freitas.
“It was not the first time I’ve seen a bald eagle,” Paxton said. “But it’s the first time I had one try to land on me. That was interesting. It was coming right for me. I’m like, ‘the guy is over there and I’m not eagle guy.’ But I guess this eagle just got confused.”
Paxton, who was standing at attention with his hat on his heart, was stunned at first as the massive bird tried to land on his shoulder. The eagle’s first attempt was unsuccessful. But undeterred, the eagle finally managed to get near Paxton’s shoulder and back, latching its talons onto his jersey.
“I stayed pretty calm,” Paxton said. “It fell off my shoulder because I didn’t have the perch thing on my shoulder for it grab on to.”
Did he get cut?
“The talons, I don’t think punctured me or anything,” he said. “They were kind of sharp on my back. But I don’t think I have any scratches.”
For manager Scott Servais, he was just thankful Paxton didn’t get hurt. That would have been the topper to all the injuries the team has already endured — a disabled list stint because of a confrontation with a bald eagle.
“I saw the whole thing,” Servais said. “I was standing on the line next to Dee Gordon and he said, ‘Skip, I don’t think that eagle is going to land on that guy. He’s going to land on you.’ I said, ‘No, Dee, he ain’t going to land on me.’ And I’ll be danged if that eagle didn’t come and land on our starting pitcher. It was crazy.”
Paxton never lost his cool and didn’t panic.
“I think Felix (Hernandez) would have probably ran away screaming,” Servais said.
Running wasn’t an option for Paxton.
“I wasn’t gonna run,” he said. “I figured I’m not gonna outrun an eagle, so might as well just see what happens.”
The eagle’s handler came running over and finally took care of the situation.
“He was just making sure I was okay,” Paxton said.
No word if the eagle knew that Paxton hails from Canada and tried to prove a point.
“I guess the eagle knew I was Canadian,” he said. “I don’t know. But it came for me.”
No word if Paxton still had the nest in his cap.