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Nelson Cruz joins Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds in this class of ageless sluggers

MINNEAPOLIS — Nelson Cruz politely, quietly answered questions at his corner clubhouse stall at Target Field, not long after hitting a pair of home runs to bring him within one big fly of No. 400 for his incredible career. His dad was in attendance, the first homer broke a Twins record for most runs scored in a season, and his second bomba of the night, No. 39, put him in an extremely exclusive class.

Behold the power of naps.

But also, behold the power of top-flight strength and flexibility, elite reaction, coordination, recovery and preparedness. Behold Nelson Cruz, the basically ageless slugger.

Only 56 Major Leaguers have hit at least 400 home runs. And there’ve been some great ones who didn’t.

“Growing up I never thought to be able to hit that many home runs. It’s definitely a blast to be a part of baseball history,” Cruz said.

Al Kaline hit 399 home runs. So did Andres Galarraga. Dale Murphy hit 398. Next up for Cruz would be historic bomba No. 400. And after that it’d be Duke Snider (407), Mark Teixeira (409) and Alfonso Soriano (412).

“It’s special. Because like I said, it’s definitely something that you really appreciate after the season because we’re really fighting for something more bigger than that. At the end of the year, you can enjoy it and definitely celebrate with the family and friends,” Cruz said.

There’s nobody walking around the Twins clubhouse seeking credit. But Cruz would have to backpedal at warp speed to escape getting some credit pinned to him. His arrival in Minnesota in his late-30s has aligned perfectly with a younger corps blossoming, a new manager helping to set the course for a team culture, and a whole lot of bombas. (The Twins have 293 of those, as of this writing. But read quickly, because they’re likely to hit another by the time you’ve finished the piece.)

“He’s overly impressive,” Baldelli gushed. “And he goes up there, you see what he does with people on base. The approach that he has up there, he really knows what he’s doing. He’s obviously really talented. He’s obviously capable, extremely capable, but when you put him up there in those types of situations, he knows what he’s trying to do, and he simplifies the situation.”

“You see him, he uses the whole field. He has the strength where when he hits the ball on the barrel, even if he’s shortening up, even if he’s doing what he can to put the ball in play, he still has the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark,” Baldelli said.

Cruz also addresses the team from time to time — including a pre-series gathering ahead of a big tilt with the Indians — and he’s a widely respected leader.

“Nelly’s a big-time leader and he’s been a big reason on and off the field [for] our sustained success,” Kyle Gibson said. “Even when he was on the shelf a little bit with his wrist [injury], his impact was there. Whether it was talking to guys or just being around the clubhouse and being that leadership role. He’s had a huge impact.”

He’s also on the verge of 40 home runs for the season. And 400 for his career. Talk about making an impact.

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