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March Mania

Byron Buxton runs the bases, could return Thursday in Anaheim

Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton (25) steals second in the third inning against Chicago White Sox at Target Field in Minneapolis on Apr. 12, 2018. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — Byron Buxton seemed to pass his final test on Tuesday morning, running the bases at Busch Stadium in a variety of scenarios in order to see if his fractured left big toe could hold up under game conditions.

Afterward, Buxton huddled with team medical staff and Twins manager Paul Molitor and was unable to hide a slight smile while meeting with the media.

"I'm pretty excited," the Twins center fielder said. "I've been out long enough. I've got the itch to get back out there and just try to keep the squad going and keep bringing in the wins."

Buxton said he's been told hairline fractures such as his can heal in six weeks or so. Tuesday marked 16 days since he fouled a ball off his foot on April 22 in Bradenton, Fla., in the second at-bat of his only rehab game for Class A Fort Myers.

"It's possible I could re-aggravate it," Buxton said. "It depends on certain ways I cut. I've kind of figured out what I can tolerate. I'll try to be as smart as possible and also be as aggressive as I can."

Molitor said more discussions would be held with team officials back in the Twin Cities as well as medical staff before deciding whether to activate Buxton in time for Thursday's opener of a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim. Molitor said "there's some momentum" toward skipping a rehab assignment and throwing Buxton back into the fire four weeks after his last game at the major league level (April 12).

The migraines that sidelined him while the Twins visited Puerto Rico have not returned.

"Physically, we want him to be at a level where he's ready to play every day," Molitor said. "If he looks like he's ready to go, we'll have to make that decision over the next 48 hours."

Buxton joked about not being in baseball shape.

"I want to say I'm out of shape, but I know I'm not out of shape," he said. "I feel pretty good. It's tolerable. I hope so. We'll see what happens from there."

The Twins, using Max Kepler and Ryan LaMarre to patrol center field during Buxton's absence, lost 12 of their first 14 games after he went down but rallied to claim five of their past six entering Tuesday afternoon.

Buxton, who hasn't been caught stealing in nearly a full calendar year, said he wouldn't have any problem reclaiming his burst on the bases.

"The pain isn't going to hurt me," he said. "As long as I can get that extra 90 feet and get closer to scoring, that's the point. Once I get back out there, I'm not going to be cautious. I'm going to go out there and play my game and just let it play out. If something else happens, it happens."

Close call

Kolten Wong wanted to be a Twin.

Drafted out of Hawaii's Kamehameha High School in the 16th round in 2008, Wong had been a defensively challenged catcher. The Twins planned to move him to second base, but they refused to meet his $100,000 bonus demand.

Their top offer was roughly $75,000, which gave Wong enough time to negotiate a full ride to the University of Hawaii, a rarity for modern college baseball programs. Three years later, the St. Louis Cardinals took him 22nd overall and gave him a $1.3 million signing bonus

He's under club control through 2021, playing on a five-year, $25 million deal after producing 8.4 career wins above replacement.

"It's kind of funny to think right now," Wong said. "I don't want to throw (the Twins) under the bus, but it wasn't that much money back then. It went down to the last day. It just made sense to go to the University of Hawaii."

Also unsigned from that Twins draft, which yielded Aaron Hicks at No. 14 overall, were current Houston Astros center fielder George Springer (48th round) and left-handers Tyler Anderson (50th round) and Adam Conley (32nd).

Was Wong open to signing had the Twins been more aggressive from the start?

"Absolutely, I was," he said. "There were no ifs, ands or maybes. I knew. I didn't want a lot. It just took a little bit more to get me, and they didn't want to do it, so I felt like college was the way to go."

In 2009, the Twins took a shortstop named Brian Dozier in the eighth round out of Southern Mississippi. Dozier moved to second base in 2012, and the rest is history.

"Obviously now, when you look at somebody like a Brian Dozier, you're like, 'OK, things worked out for a reason,'" Wong said.