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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Three batting titles guarantee historic standing for Mauer

There were three players in contention for the 2006 American League batting title entering the final day of the regular season on Oct. 1: Joe Mauer with the Twins and Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano with the Yankees.

The Twins were playing the White Sox at the Metrodome and the Yankees were playing Toronto in the Bronx. Mauer was batting .346, Jeter .345 and Cano was at .341, and needed hits and help on that last day to win a batting title in his second season.

Mauer was attempting to become the first catcher in American League history to claim a batting title. A pair of Cincinnati Reds catchers had won batting titles in the National League: Bubbles Hargrave in 1926, and Ernie Lombardi in 1938 and 1942.

The Twins had a more intriguing drama taking place: They had been on a long run to catch Detroit at the top of the AL Central and finally equaled the Tigers’ 95 victories on the Saturday before the season-closer.

The Twins had Carlos Silva facing Chicago's Javier Vazquez, making his 32nd start as part of an outstanding White Sox rotation. The Mighty Whiteys ended up winning 90 games, good for only third place in the always-rugged AL Central.

OK, not always, but in 2006 for sure.

The Tigers were at home with Kansas City, which came to Detroit with 100 losses and had won the first two games of the series. The Twins and the Tigers were both in the playoffs, but the winner would open at home vs. Oakland and the loser would be on the road vs. the Yankees.

Silva allowed a run in the first and Mauer struck out in the bottom of the inning. Mauer’s double to deep left triggered a three-run rally vs. Vazquez in the fourth. Mauer also singled (to left) off Vazquez as the Twins added a run in the fifth.

Silva turned the 4-1 lead over the Twins’ bullpen in the sixth, and quite a bullpen it was with lefty Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan nailing down what became a 5-1 victory.

On Monday, there was a formal announcement of Mauer’s retirement held at Target Field, and the historic nature of the batting titles was mentioned to him.

Mauer talked about Joe Vavra, the hitting coach, being in the space in the back of the Twins’ dugout between innings in ’06, monitoring Cano and Jeter, and checking what his man Mauer needed to stay ahead of the Yankees.

Jeter went 1 for 5 and finished at .343. Cano went 2 for 4 and finished at .342. And the American League finally had a catcher win a batting title in its 106th year of existence. It has had two more in the 12 years since, and both came from Mauer – back-to-back in 2008 (.328) and 2009 (.365).

The Tigers wound up losing in 12 innings to K.C. to give the AL Central title to the Twins. Then, the Twins were swept by Oakland and the Tigers upset the Yankees and wound up going to the World Series.

The Twins had a hat trick that season: Justin Morneau, MVP; Johan Santana, Cy Young Award; and Mauer, the first of three batting titles in four seasons.

Tim Laudner, never a threat for a batting title but a World Series champion as a catcher, was among the former Twins attending Mauer’s announcement. Laudner was asked if the wear-and-tear a catcher endures in a season explains the dearth of batting titles.

“I don’t think that’s it,’’ Laudner said. “I think as a season progresses, you have to spend so much time working with pitchers – before the game, this is how we want this pitcher to work to this hitter; during the game, trying to get the right pitch to the right place – that it can overwhelm your own preparation as a hitter.

“You have to be as good a hitter as Joe Mauer to overcome that, and if you’re as good a hitter as Joe was coming into the game, there’s a strong possibility that they are going move you to another position.

“Justin Morneau was a catcher and they moved him early in his career. Good decision.

“The guy Joe mentioned today – Cano. Look it up. He was playing 158 games a year as a second baseman. With a catcher, he’s behind the plate 110, and maybe 15 more as a DH. Would you rather have a great hitter in the lineup 150-plus games or 125?’’

Laudner took a ride with General Manager Terry Ryan for a Twins’ event in Mason City, Iowa in the winter before the Twins would make Mauer the No. 1 overall draft choice in June 2001.

“I told Terry, ‘I don’t think he’s going to catch’ – meaning, he was too good a hitter,’’ Laudner said. “And Terry said, ‘He has the skills to do both, to catch and still hit.'

The Twins didn’t see catching as a burden for Mauer. They saw it as an enhancement to his greatness as a hitter. And it was that, for seven-plus seasons, and the first major league batting titles for a catcher since 1942.

Ryan has been gone from the Twins for two years, but he was among those in attendance at Mauer’s walkoff from 15 years with his home-state organization. Ryan was asked if baseball will ever see another catcher win a batting title, in his opinion?

“History tells us no,’’ Ryan said. “But I wouldn’t say that for sure. There’s a kid out there now …’’

Someone else in the group said: “Yeah, the catcher at Oregon State. We better watch him for a few more years before we say never.’’

Adley Rutchsman is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound switch hitter entering his junior season at Oregon State. He had 17 hits in the College World Series as the Beavers came out of the losers bracket to win it last season. He batted .408 for the season, with nine home runs and 83 RBI in 68 games.

“He can’t run like this guy could,’’ said Ryan, nodding across the room to Mauer, “so he’s going to keep catching. And he can hit.’’

Reusse: Friday a first-rate showcase of Gophers women's sports success

Bill Musselman was 31 when he coached the Gophers in a Big Ten basketball game for the first time on Jan. 8, 1972 at Williams Arena. The opponent was another 31-year-old, Bobby Knight, and the Indiana Hoosiers.

The attendance for the Gophers’ 52-51 victory was announced at 19,121 and there were another 4-5,000 people behind the west wall, watching on closed-circuit television in the hockey arena.

Five months later, on June 23, President Richard Nixon signed a bill containing the Education Amendments of 1972. This included the Title IX amendment intended to provide high school girls and collegiate women with equal opportunity to participate in sports competition at their schools.

On Nov. 9, 2018, there was again a very large crowd in Williams Arena to watch a young coach lead the Gophers, and there again were thousands of excited fans in the adjacent arena behind the west wall.

This time, the coach helping to bring basketball fans to the Barn was Lindsay Whalen, 35, and behind the wall in what’s now Maturi Pavilion there was another sellout crowd of 5,599 to watch Hugh McCutcheon’s volleyball team continue its unbeaten run in the Big Ten.

And 46 years after The Muss and his players were filling both sides of this historic and huge building, and 46 years after Title IX, both arenas were a popular attraction due to women athletes.

I can tell you this: When high schools and colleges started adding women’s athletics in the mid-‘70s, I was a sports writer in St. Paul on an all-male staff, and we had no idea how we were going to handle this, and where it was going to lead.

It took a while, and the big checks and overwhelming attention still are claimed by males, but we had another example of where Title IX could lead on Friday night with this twinbill at the Barn and the Pav.

Maybe you have to be as old and as long in sports journalism as me to be impressed by the popularity of these side-by-side attractions. Or maybe you have to be someone who was as fully involved in that first decade of women’s sports as was Annie Adamczak, then of Moose Lake High School, now Annie Adamczak-Glavan of Club 43 volleyball in Hopkins.

“I was 11 or so when Moose Lake started girls athletics,’’ she said. “We were a family of 12 kids and my two older sisters, Trish and Mona, didn’t have a chance to play high school athletics.

“I played slow-pitch softball in the summer and that was it as far as organized sports. Then came high school sports. We had a collection of very good athletes. In volleyball, we had three girls that could get above the net. That was two more than most teams.’’

Adamzcak and her teammates won the state volleyball and fast-pitch softball titles in Annie’s junior year of 1980-81. They swept the volleyball, basketball and softball titles in 1981-82. They lost a total of two games (basketball) in the three sports in 1980-81, and went 79-0 in 1981-82.

Adamczak stood 6-feet, if she kept on her sneakers. She wound up with a volleyball scholarship to Nebraska.

“I now coach some great hitters and see some great hitters who are 6 feet, and the college coaches say, ‘I don’t think she’s tall enough to play for us,’’ she said. “Alexis Hart is 6-feet tall and is very good for the Gophers, but she also jumps 32 inches, and that’s unreal.

“Women’s volleyball has the advantage of not being always compared to a men’s game. People are able to watch the matches and take these women for the fantastic athletes that they are without any question.’’

And women’s basketball? “What really stands out to me compared to an earlier time is the strength with the ball,’’ she said. “Players dribble into traffic and aren’t giving up the ball.

“Everybody loves Lindsay Whalen, and it’s great that people came out to see her team in its first game. To have 16-17,000 people in that old place for basketball and volleyball on the same night …

“As I said, for someone with two older sisters who never had a chance to play sports, it’s tremendous.’’

Whalen’s first game was advertised as a sellout, although there was a large expanse of empty seats on the west end that university promoters were hoping would be claimed by students. The bribe for attendance included boxes and boxes of free pizza, but the students as a whole on a Friday night must have had liquids on their minds rather than Domino’s.

I was approaching fans as they entered the Barn and asking, “When was the last time you were in attendance for a Gopher women’s basketball game?’’

(Note: Thankfully, no one reversed that question toward me.)

I ran into Jim Lehman, a fine golfer and brother of another fine golfer (Tom). He admitted this was his first-ever time watching the Gophers women in Williams. “We’re here for Lindsay,’’ he said.

Tom O’Brien and Arlen Swenson from Fergus Falls area had him beat: They watched the Gophers women in Williams Arena as recently as the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in 2004.

Whalen’s team. And McCarville’s. And the rest of that club of characters that made its underdog run to the Final Four, and accelerated Whalen’s path to being a statewide athletic hero.

A husband-and-wife team of first timers was asked what makes Lindsay special. Husband: “She’s a winner, she’s a competitor and she’s down-to-Earth.’’ Wife: “Who doesn’t like Lindsay?’’

The answer was no one among Friday’s attendees – maybe 11,000 people in actuality. The roar was mighty when Whalen finally was introduced. Pacing in a manner that indicated nervousness, Lindsay waved in low-key appreciation and started coaching.

The Gophers seem a bit lean and undersized. They were up 31-20 at halftime against overmatched New Hampshire, and then pulled away for a 70-47 victory.

Behind the wall, the volleyball team had demolished Indiana in three sets to put its record at 15-0 in the Big Ten. There are five regular-season games left, Saturday at home and then four on the road, and this was the match chosen to celebrate Senior Night – with Kayla Buford, Sophie Beckley and the much-honored setter, Samantha Seliger-Swenson.

Coach Hugh McCutcheon said of his seniors to the crowd, “It’s not a surprise that when they got here, we got good.’’

And he added: “We still have work to do.’’

Oh, yes.

The Gophers, rated No. 3 in the country, represent the host school for volleyball’s Final Four on Dec. 13 and 15 at Target Center. And there are high hopes that what took place on Friday in the ancient structure on University Ave. was a preliminary celebration of women athletes in these parts.