As rap artist Dessa sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the Minnesota Twins’ home opener Thursday, Challenger, a bald eagle who has soared into dozens of sporting events over the years, including several times at Target Field, was released from his center field perch, an inspirational accompaniment to the patriotic moment. Then something weird happened. “I’ll be danged if it didn’t come down,” Mariners manager Scott Servais marveled, “and land on our starting pitcher,” referring to James Paxton.
Fortunately, the Mariners starter remained calm, waiting for the eagle to find the ground and for the trainer to take care of it. While it might have messed up his rhythm as he prepared for his second start of the season, it didn’t seem to bother Paxton in the moment, and now the 29-year-old Canadian has a new, very American story to tell.
“I saw it flying toward my face, so I kind of ducked it,” Paxton said. “It was, I think, trying to stand on my back. 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.”
It made for a bizarre sight, though, until the handler raced to the outfield and retrieved the bald eagle. Videos of the incident quickly went viral. “My phone is blowing up. … The guy said it was the first time that had happened,” Paxton said. “I guess the eagle knew I was Canadian.”