Souhan: Lewis' absence shows in Twins home opener

Royce Lewis wore a Wild jersey to Target Field for the Twins home opener. His name was on the back.

"I wanted it to be Kaprizov," he said. "They sent it to the guys that helped them out last year, doing little promotional stuff, and they sent these jerseys. Same with the Vikings. So I got it in my name and I'm like, man, I wanted it to be Jefferson."

Kirill Kaprizov and Justin Jefferson. When Lewis recovers from his injury, it would not be surprising to see those stars lobbying for Lewis jerseys.

Thursday, the Twins played their home opener, losing 4-2 to Cleveland. During pregame introductions, Lewis drew the largest cheers.

Which he, of course, denied. "I don't know about that," he said. "I don't think I did. I don't notice those things. I just think it's cool that they're celebrating our team."

Lewis offered similar sentiments when asked about the Twins' 15 strikeouts and 0-for-12 performance with runners in scoring position. "I trust my guys," he said. "I never looked at it like, oh, if I was in their position, I would do this better."

Lewis is expected to miss more than a month because of a strained right quadriceps muscle. He began this season, on his first big-league Opening Day, with a home run and a single in his first two at-bats, before injuring his knee running the bases in Kansas City.

This is part feeling, part fact: the Twins lineup, despite its overwhelmingly positive results during the second half of the 2023 season, looks unthreatening without Lewis in the middle.

Carlos Correa has swung the bat well and run well after a season diminished by a plantar fasciitis injury. Byron Buxton is capable of carrying the team for weeks. But there is no other Twins player who combines power, clutch hitting and the joyful embrace of big moments the way Lewis does.

Before the game, manager Rocco Baldelli was asked which of his players has become a true middle-of-the-order hitter since the departure of Nelson Cruz.

"The one that is the most kind of straightforward and easily stated is Royce," Baldelli said. "And it's really amazing that I'm saying that after 250 plate appearances or at-bats at the big-league level. But I think it's just truth. You can put him in the three or four hole and feel like he's at home in that place in the lineup.

"I don't want to say that it's been easy for him, but the performance has been there from the start when he hits in those spots."

After decades of covering baseball, this marks the first time I have written on Opening Day about a player who didn't play.

Royce Lewis is a change agent.

He's also one of the most endearing interviews in sports.

Ask about his jersey, and he talks about Kaprizov and Jefferson.

Ask about the chains around his neck, and he tells a story. His mother was making jewelry and sending it to Lewis in the minor leagues. Teammates and opponents began asking him about it.

"I felt like a smuggler," he said. "I was in Cedar Rapids, and I'd meet the opposing team in the tunnel and they'd give me cash, and I'd be like, man, this is more than I get in meal money. I'd Venmo her the money, and take the cash and go get dinner with buddies, and it felt like I made money even though I really didn't."

His mother's business can be found on Etsy at "Humility Chains." (Of course.)

When I asked the name of the business, Lewis said, "Thank you!" (Of course.)

Lewis played roller hockey as a child. "I had been watching the NHL, so I thought I could check," he said. "So I'd hit these guys and get sent to the penalty box."

Hitters gonna hit. "Hey, that's pretty good," Lewis said with a smile. (Of course.)