MINNEAPOLIS – James Paxton is known for his laser focus. This is the guy, after all, who after playing his second big league game in front of over 41,000 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis looked up at the multiple decks and said he had no idea there were people up there.
That laser focus came in handy before the Mariners played against Minnesota in its home opener as a bald eagle that was released during the National Anthem for a flyover decided Paxton was his landing perch.
“It was kind of coming right for me,” Paxton said. “I was like, ‘The guy (handler) is over there, I’m not the eagle guy.’ I guess the eagle got confused. I was just standing there trying not to panic.”
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Paxton did anything but panic, not flinching as the eagle made a first pass at him. It settled on the ground in front of him, and then tried again to land on Paxton’s shoulder. This time Paxton turned his back to the eagle, who hopped on board and tried to find a grip on his shoulder.
“As I stood up he kind of fell off my back a bit and was kind of clawing to get back on my shoulder,” he said. “The talons, they were kind of sharp on my back, but I don’t have any scratches I believe.”
The entire experience was witnessed by Paxton’s teammates, who were lined up on the third base line for opening day introductions watching everything unfold.
Eagles by nature will seek the highest point as a landing spot. This eagle saw the 6-foot-4 “Big Maple” and thought good enough.
“I just have to be not standing alone in the field,” Paxton said.
There was some good-natured joking after the game and Paxton had a phone full of messages to take care of as video of the event has gone viral.
Paxton called the experience interesting and said tongue-in-cheek that he wasn’t too surprised that the errant eagle sought out the Canadian on the the field.
“The eagle knew I was Canadian, I don’t know,” he said. “It came for me.”