Who knew that bald eagles prefer to nest in a Big Maple?
At least, that’s what happened Thursday before the Mariners played at Minnesota in the Twins’ home opener.
M’s starter James Paxton, whose nickname is Big Maple for his 6-foot-4 frame and Canadian ancestry, was standing in left field as the national anthem was being played when a bald eagle, brought in for a ceremonial flight over Target Field, mistook the left-hander for his handler.
“I guess the eagle knew I was Canadian. I don’t know. But it came for me,” Paxton said.
The eagle, named Challenger, first buzzed by Paxton before landing about 10 feet in front of him. The bird then flew at Paxton, who bent over at the waist. The landing spot was Paxton’s back and then up onto his right shoulder.
“Figured I’m not going to outrun an eagle,” Paxton said. “So might as well see what happens.”
One of the eagle’s trainers ran out to left field to lure away the bird.
“I kind of ducked it so it wouldn’t fly into my face. It was, I think, trying to stand on my back,” Paxton said. “And then I thought, ‘OK, if I can stand up slowly, maybe it’ll just rest on my shoulder. But as I stood up, he kind of fell off my back a little bit and was kind of clawing to try to get back up on my shoulder. But then as I stood straight up, it fell back onto the ground.”
Paxton then resumed his warmup.
“The talons, I don’t think, punctured me. They were kind of sharp on my back. I don’t have any scratches, I don’t believe,” Paxton said. “That’s not the first time I’ve seen a bald eagle, but it was the first time I’ve had one try to land on me.”
The scrape didn’t seem to affect Paxton, who opened with five scoreless innings before the Twins tied the score at 2-2 in the sixth. Minnesota went on to win 4-2.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.