Today the Metrodome carpet will look a little greener, the Teflon roof a little brighter. Today the Twins lineup will become deeper than existentialism, their catching tighter than Tupperware.

Today the Twins receive a one-man stimulus package named Joe Mauer, the most unique athlete in the Twin Cities.

Today, if you are a Twins player, you should celebrate Mauer's return. If you are a Twins fan, you should recognize what you've been missing. If you are a Twins official, you should accelerate your efforts to sign him to a lifetime contract, before he even daydreams about leaving.

Mauer isn't just exceptional. In a business filled with short careers and disposable players, he's close to being irreplaceable.

We have reached the point in Mauer's career where we know exactly what he is, and what he isn't. He is not, nor will he ever be, a power hitter. He is not, and perhaps he never will be, an ironman.

What he is, is unique. He is the best pure hitter in the big leagues. He is the only American League catcher to win a batting title, and he did it twice in three years. He is the team's best baserunner. He is an exceptional catch-and-throw defender. He is an increasingly commanding lieutenant of the pitching staff.

He also is the rare star who fits his team, his city, his state, like a custom-made chest protector.

Despite his greatness, Ted Williams didn't fit Boston. He was too sensitive, too paranoid to mesh with that obsessive city. However great he was, Joe DiMaggio did not fit New York. He was a shy, strange man in a brash town. Barry Bonds had no real ties to San Francisco, Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols none to St. Louis.

Few big-league stars -- Derek Jeter in New York, Cal Ripken in Baltimore, Nolan Ryan in two cities in Texas are recent exceptions -- ever have fit into their surroundings, in terms of temperament and personal history, as well as Mauer fits here.

So Mauer's absence should make us appreciate what we have while we still have it. How often does a homegrown kid spend his entire career with the franchise he grew up cheering? How often does a young star display exemplary class and character despite drawing attention every time he opens his front door? How often does a young star's temperament conform to his bosses' blueprint?

We shouldn't let his flaws obscure his strengths. Early in his career, Mauer was too hesitant to play through aches and pains, and he never will develop the kind of power some scouts expected, because his swing is not designed to launch drives deep to right field.

And Halle Berry starred in "Catwoman." Get over it.

Without Mauer, the Twins too often have looked listless and undermanned. Mike Redmond is a backup who shouldn't play more than a day or two a week, and Jose Morales is a talented hitter still learning to catch.

With Mauer in the lineup, opposing pitchers will have to throw more pitches to get through the meat of the order. Justin Morneau will become even more productive. Jason Kubel will drive in 110 runs. Twins pitchers will worry less about baserunners, or bouncing a pitch in the dirt.

Today, the Twins become a much better team. If we're smart, we'll appreciate what we're watching while we're watching it.

We learned from Kirby Puckett not to take greatness for granted. In the spring of 1996, after his first winter of working out in an effort to extend his career, entering a season in which he would bat cleanup for the first time behind Chuck Knoblauch and Paul Molitor, Puckett woke up and couldn't see his wife, who was laying beside him.

Weeks later, at his farewell news conference, Puckett said, "Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.''

Mauer's injury history suggests he eventually might be forced to switch positions. The guy is 6-5. Imagine Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley squatting for three hours at a time.

Catchers are not supposed to be 6-5, and lifting 225 pounds. Every time he has to jump from behind home plate or make a throw places undue stress on valuable joints.

So Mauer's future is uncertain. He could get hurt again, he could change positions, he could decide to sample life as a wealthy young bachelor in New York or Boston.

Enjoy him while you can. Tomorrow is not promised to even Joe Mauer, so carpe diem, or at least set the TiVo.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •