John McGrath

Time for James Paxton to soar like me — an eagle

I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, my botched landing during last week’s “Star-Spangled Banner” rendition before the Twins’ home opener against the Mariners. Not gonna lie. As embarrassments go, that was No. 1.

The plan was to soar around the ballpark and hook up with my boss at the end of the song, the way I’ve done about a gazillion times. Instead, for reasons I can’t explain, I found myself on the back of Mariners starter James Paxton.

Poor guy was minding his own business, trying to focus on the game, and out of the blue comes this creature, the size of a military transport jet, mistaking a pitcher for a professional bird handler.

Most people would have been terrified, but Paxton remained unperturbed and an accident was avoided. Still, the sight of a bald eagle zooming on Paxton became a national story — not the kind of publicity any of us who represent America’s national symbol wants.

One moment I’m ruling the sky, the highest flier of ’em all, and the next I’m mayor of Oopsville. Now I know how former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Jim Marshall felt after he scooped up a fumble in a 1964 game against San Francisco and ran for a 64-yard score. The score was a two-point safety for the 49ers. Marshall ran the wrong way.

He went on to set durability records for the Vikings as a mainstay of the “Purple People Eaters” defense, but the wrong-way run overshadowed accomplishments that should have qualified him for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I can only hope one errant turn doesn’t tarnish my legacy like that, because — and excuse me if this sounds like I’m bragging — I’ve been everywhere. The World Series, major college-football bowl games, appearances on “Good Morning America” before breakfast and with David Letterman after dinner.

Life has been good for this proud bird of prey, but a little complicated. I was born in Louisiana, in the spring of 1989, and a few weeks later, a storm broke up my home, severely corrupting the family plan. Parents mate for life in our world. They teach us how to leave the nest and scour the wild for food. (I recommend the Lake Tahoe brown trout.)

Anyway, I got lost and stayed alive because some well-meaning human beings hand-fed me. I was released, but the social interaction did not enhance my survival skills. Homelessness can be daunting for eagles, especially eagles weaned by people.

I ended up at a Little League field in Iowa, scrawny and scared, and I was adopted by the American Eagle Association.

Those compassionate folks gave me a name — “Challenger” — and what amounts to a full-time gig as a showman. My debut was at the 1995 Bassmaster Classic — fresh fish everywhere I looked, love at first sight — and my career took off.

The Star-Spangled Banner stunt is a specialty. I jump at “Oh say, can you see?,” float over the stadium for 90 seconds, and stick the landing at “land of the free, and home of the brave.”

We bald eagles can relate to those lyrics. Pardon the digression, but we’re not bald. Far from it. Our heads are covered with an abundance of white hair. The word “bald” is rooted in an ancient English synonym for white hair.

I wasn’t consulted about suggestions for my name, but “Challenger” rocks. It sure beats “Baldy.”

So here I am, a 29-year old, crowd-pleasing champion at the top of his game, and before I know it, I’m digging my talons into James Paxton’s Mariners uniform.

What does this mean?

According to Pure Spirit, a website devoted to “animal communications and behavior solutions,” it means plenty.

“When an eagle appears, you are on notice to be courageous and stretch your limits,” a Pure Spirit article informs. “Do not accept the status quo, but rather reach higher and become more than you believe you are capable of. Look at things from a new, high perspective.

“Be patient with the present, but know that the future holds possibilities that you may not be able to see. You are about to take flight.”

Pretty heavy, huh?

Although I wasn’t familiar with Paxton before our awkward encounter last Thursday, I’ve learned of his checkered history in the big leagues — loads of talent undone by fluke injuries — and the checkered health history of his team.

Catcher Mike Zunino is nursing an oblique strain that flared up during batting practice on the eve of the season opener. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz hit two homers in the first two games, then turned his ankle after slipping on a dugout step.

Bad vibes, for sure, exaggerated by fresh memories of how the 2017 Mariners were derailed by a procession of players boarding the disabled list.

Between the Zunino and Cruz injuries and the lost cause of last season, some fans are wondering if the club is cursed.

Which brings me back to the Twins game, last Thursday. Only heaven knows why I identified James Paxton as a landing spot, but it happened.

“When an eagle appears, you are on notice to be courageous and stretch your limits.”

I do what I do.

May the force be with him.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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