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Why a Minnesota Twins pitcher is crazy about the Lightning

So crazy he watched games on his laptop from Bora Bora. During a one-year anniversary trip. Top that.
Phil Hughes watches the Lightning play the Sharks last November on his laptop while on vacation in Bora Bora. (Photo by Phil Hughes)

FORT MYERS — A pair of old-fashioned goal lamps made by Budweiser can be found in a condo in Fort Myers. They are synched by an app to go off every time the Lightning scores. The red lights spin. The horns blast. Twice.

"It's not quiet, either," Phil Hughes said. "I got them turned on pretty loud."

His wife, Sarah, is a saint.

"She's not a big fan of the obnoxious horn going off all the time," Hughes said, "and it's not helping that they're one of the highest-scoring teams in the league."

Hughes is a pitcher for the Twins. He likes playing fantasy football and live tweeting The Bachelor.

But he loves the Lightning.

Loves. The. Lightning.

Former Lightning wing Ryan Malone lives near Minneapolis and is friends with some of the Vikings. He became friends with some of the Steelers when he played for the Penguins. Malone said he has never met a professional football or baseball player who is as over-the-top fanatical about a team in another sport as Hughes.

"Phil, hands down," Malone said. "He's definitely a true fan."

"He's a California kid who fell in love with hockey," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's kind of cool."

Hughes' fandom began in 2005. Drafted in June 2004 by the Yankees, Hughes arrived the next year in Tampa for his first spring training. He spent weeks training across the city from the Lightning and became a fan of the team more and more as the years went on. His level of interest took off in 2010 when he watched Malone play for the United States in the Olympics.

"That's when I really got into hockey," Hughes said. "I'm watching (the United States), and they got this guy who's pushing people to the ice. I thought this guy was pretty legit. I looked to see who he played for. He played for Tampa. I thought we ought to go to some games."

Phil Hughes tweeted this picture of his Budweiser goal lamp.

Hughes was wearing the Malone jersey he bought after the Olympics the night he met Malone and other Lightning players in the dressing room after a game. He laughed at the memory.

Hughes became friends with Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson, Alex Killorn, Malone and Stamkos. He made up his own nicknames for the players, calling Purcell "The Intern."

"He looked like an intern," Malone said of the wing, "which I don't know is good or not for a hockey player."

Hughes, in turn, became known as "Big Bear."

Hughes, who signed with the Twins in 2014 and now trains in Fort Myers, is a serial tweeter when watching Lightning games.

"(Coach Jon) Cooper follows me on Twitter," Hughes said. "I got to watch what I say sometimes. He'll see it."

Hughes grew up in Mission Viejo, Calif. He has never ice skated.

"I'm scared to death I'm going to hurt myself," he said. "(That would be) a tough one to explain when you come into spring training."

Phil and Sarah celebrated their one-year anniversary in November in Bora Bora. The Lightning was in the midst of a California trip. Hughes watched the Lightning-Sharks game from his laptop while sitting outside his overwater bungalow. The Hugheses caught a Lightning game in Tampa last month when they arrived for spring training.

Phil and Sarah Hughes at a Lightning game in early February. (Photo by Phil Hughes)

Lightning players have seen Hughes pitch for the Yankees and the Twins. They even attended a 2010 Yankees-Twins playoff game to see him pitch for New York.

"He would give up one home run when I went," Malone said. "One time I brought my two kids, and he gave up three home runs. I told him I want to go to your games, but I feel so bad."

"I try to tell him that's not just when he's there," Hughes said. "That pretty much happens all the time."

Hughes said he caught flak in New York from fans who wanted to know why he didn't root for the Rangers. Now he hears it from Minnesota fans who want him to root for the Wild.

"I say, 'That's not how it works,' " Hughes said.

Once the Thunder always the Thunder.

"Exactly," Hughes said.

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @RogerMooney50.

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