July 19, 2024

Why Twins slugger Royce Lewis celebrates his wins and plays with unbridled joy

PHOENIX — Just as he predicted, Royce is playing like Royce.

Though Royce Lewis uttered that phrase June 4 in reference to playing without physical limitations, the young Minnesota Twins star also noted he intended to start having fun again after missing 58 games with a severe right quad strain.

True to his word, Lewis is having a ball on a nightly basis, and you only need to briefly scan his highlights to discover a player overflowing with delight anytime he takes the field.

From homering nine times in 19 games since returning, to celebrating his wins, Lewis emotes happiness like few of his peers across the league.

Although they’re in awe of his powerful production, his Twins teammates say they’re just as astounded by the energy and jubilation with which Lewis plays.

They contend it’s unlike anyone they’ve played alongside.

“It’s an immaculate vibe,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “I don’t understand how he can be like that all day and he brings it every day, all day long. It’s pretty impressive. I couldn’t do it and know a lot of guys couldn’t do it. I’m glad he’s the one that can be that upbeat all day. The energy is unmatched.”

Plenty of players are thrilled to play Major League Baseball. Few wear it on their sleeves like Lewis.

When Lewis knows he’s hit a home run, something he’s become quite accustomed to doing in his short career, he doesn’t hold back. The first overall pick of the 2017 MLB Draft often flips his bat, taps his chest and yells and gestures wildly to his dugout before he reaches first base and then continues his trot.

Royce Lewis celebrates a home run with a bat flip. (Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images)

Lewis says he isn’t interested in showing up his opponents. He’s merely taking time to enjoy a positive moment in a sport where the majority are filled with frustration.

“I don’t take it for granted,” Lewis said. “You don’t know when your last day in the game is going to be, let alone when you can have success because this game is so hard. You’ve got to celebrate those as much as you can. I just hope other teams and players know I’m not trying to do anything towards them — I’m just having fun with the game. That’s why I play, because I love it. The pointing is all about me having fun. It has nothing to do with any pitcher. I’m not showing anybody up.”

Since he returned to the field earlier this month and promptly homered in his first game back, Lewis has had plenty of chances to celebrate. Entering Wednesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Lewis had homered nine times in 68 at-bats in June, good for a 162-game pace of 81 homers.

It’s yet another storybook return for Lewis, who missed the entire 2021 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. In 2022, he made his major-league debut in early May and was off to a great start but tore his ACL again on May 29 and missed another year. Those absences come on top of Lewis spending the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season at the team’s alternate site.

Even though he’s been around for years, Lewis, 25, still hasn’t played 100 MLB games. (Wednesday’s game was the 90th of his career.)

But Lewis insists his hearty celebrations aren’t an attempt to make up for lost time, either. It is how he’s always played the game. Taking in the Twins’ series at the Oakland Coliseum over the weekend, Lewis’ mother, Cindy, agreed with her son’s assessment.

“It’s who he is,” Cindy said. “From the time he was 2, we would take him to games and he would sit on (his dad’s) lap and he was locked in, studying the players. He didn’t want popcorn, he didn’t want candy. He loves it so much. When he’s on the field playing, he’s just happy.”

Those around the Twins would concur as they regularly see that unbridled joy on display when he plays.

The descriptions of Lewis by teammates and coaches provide a sense of his uniqueness. Once in the minor leagues, he did pushups at second base after a long fly ball ended as a double instead of a homer — because he “needed to get stronger.”

“It’s a joy to be his teammate, to watch Royce be Royce,” said center fielder Byron Buxton. “The positive energy, the happiness he brings every day is something you wish you had each and every day. It gets harder (over a player’s career). … Passion and happiness are completely different. Not everybody’s got it.”

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, drafted in 2000, has been in professional baseball for more than two decades as a player, scout, coach and manager. In all those years, he recalls few, if any, players who enjoy their time on the field the way Lewis does.

“He plays the game like a kid who is happy as can be, thrilled to be playing with his friends,” Baldelli said. “That’s what he comes off like. Pure joy that you can see. We have other guys who play with pure joy. But the outward emotion that flows out of him very easily makes him different than maybe almost any other player.”

Royce Lewis celebrates with Carlos Correa after hitting a three-run shot. He has 10 homers in 71 at-bats this season and 27 in 331 at-bats in his career. (Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today)

Shortly after he debuted in 2022, Lewis waxed poetic about life in the big leagues. Lewis, then 22, sounded like a kid at summer camp as he described how much fun he had playing and then “crushing” lobster and steak during the team’s postgame meal.

On the other end of the spectrum, Lewis didn’t hesitate to discuss his frustration as he rehabbed this season after suffering his latest injury, while running the bases in Kansas City on Opening Day. Lewis thought the Twins were too cautious and deliberate with his rehab process. He felt he was ready to go to the minors in mid-May, but had to wait until May 25 to begin a six-game rehab assignment before returning to the Twins the first week in June.

Whereas his ACL recoveries were expected to be exactly a year, there was no set timeline for the quad strain rehab. That was a new challenge with this setback.

“I’d do anything to be able to play and be around the game,” Lewis said. “I don’t even have to play. I just want to be available and even (during off days) I’m still preparing. Being available is way different though than being on the IL knowing there’s no chance I’m able to play. … It was difficult because I felt like I was ready. But at the same time, maybe I just got extra ready with the extra time that I was given. Now, I don’t even think about any injuries and I just go be me.”

Once again, Royce is playing like Royce.

He laughed recently when asked about the phrase, noting his teammates teased him about the comment. But the statement was Lewis being his authentic self, and, as always, he had his teammates laughing.

“I don’t even understand how he has that much energy in him,” Correa said. “He’s a young player, he’s hungry. You need people like that on your team. Not only does he hit homers every day, those things he does. But also, he keeps everybody happy, gets everybody laughing. He’s definitely the whole package.”

(Top photo of Royce Lewis: Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images)