Sid Hartman: Mauer's blast-off delayed, but a thrill

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2009 - 11:29 PM

Shaking off some jitters before his first at-bat Friday, the Twins star showed no ill effects from his forced absence.

Joe Mauer, who returned to the Twins lineup and celebrated it with a home run and double Friday, talked about how frustrating it was to miss 22 regular-season games, plus spring training contests, when he was rehabilitating from his back problems.

"I don't wish that upon anybody," said Mauer, after scoring three runs in the Twins' 7-5 victory over the Royals in his season debut. "Especially anybody in this room [the Twins clubhouse].

"You know, you want to be out there playing, and that's where I was at. But tonight, getting back out there with the guys was something special. I feel good. We'll see what happens [Saturday]. Everything went well.

"Tonight, I felt great at the plate, and felt like I was seeing the ball pretty good. I just have normal soreness. Still kind of working back into playing every day. It wasn't very frustrating tonight, because I was back out there.

"It was like an Opening Day for me. It went pretty good.

"They were giving me a hard time [in the dugout after the home run], saying it's not that easy, stuff like that. Just being around the guys and getting a win, that's what I missed."

Mauer said no pitcher in the Florida State League had a sinker like that of the Royals' Sidney Ponson. "He's got a great sinker," Mauer said of Ponson, briefly his battery mate in 2007. "Down there, you can kind of sit on a fastball and get it. But this is major league pitching, and every night you see a good pitcher. I was able to get a couple of mistakes and put good swings on them."

Mauer also said it was great being back behind the plate and helping the pitchers. In fact, he and starter Kevin Slowey had a long conversation after the game talking about the pitches Mauer was calling.

"I try to be back there and help [the pitchers] out with whatever they need," Mauer said. "I know these guys pretty well, and I know how they respond to things. ... I feel pretty good with them out on the mound and what they're capable of doing."

He admitted being a little nervous before the game started.

"[The standing ovations from the fans] was really nice," he said. "I kind of didn't know what to do. Just wanted to get in there. But it was really nice, and I appreciated it.

"I was a little nervous [in my first at-bat]," he said. "It was kind of like an Opening Day for me. I've caught Sidney before, so I kind of had a good idea of what he was going to do to me. He's still got one of the better sinkers in the league, so I just tried to wait for a pitch up, and I got one."

Wants to be active

Mauer didn't know how active he was going to be with manager Ron Gardenhire not wanting to get the 26-year-old catcher hurt again.

"I missed a few too many here already," he said. "But I'm going to try to work my way up to get to catching every day like I did last year. It just might take a little more time. I wouldn't be opposed to [being designated hitter], but I'd rather be out on the field than sitting on the bench."

He had fun playing with the young Twins farmhands. "Being around those guys, it was good, but I didn't want to stay too long," he said. "You can't dig in too much with some of those guys. But they're enthusiastic, and excited down there. You try to help them as much as you can."

He said the presence of his brother Jake in Fort Myers managing the team was a big plus. "It was a tough month, and having him down there was nice," Mauer said. "It probably would have been a lot tougher if he wasn't down there. He kept those boys active.

"Oh yeah, he was on me. But it was a lot of fun."

When a guy who has won two batting titles and is one of the best at throwing out runners is out of the lineup, it is going to hurt the club.

Now if Mauer can only stay healthy, things will improve for the Twins.

Jottings

Apparently, the New Orleans Saints no longer are a candidate to move to Los Angeles, now that owner Tom Benson has signed a lease in the Superdome through 2025. Both the state of Louisiana and Benson made concessions to make sure the Saints wouldn't move. What is necessary is a similar move here to make sure the Vikings don't move, now that there is one less team that had one of the oldest owners in the league pulling out of the Los Angeles market.

ESPN reports that Brett Favre -- the former Packers quarterback who was with the Jets last year, is a free agent and said he won't play any more football -- has hired a trainer to get him in shape. The odds are against Favre joining the Vikings, but a lot of people in the NFL think it could happen. Favre would have to undergo a surgery to repair his torn biceps muscle.

The Vikings spent $100,000 to sign 14 free agents after the draft. ... Vikings offensive lineman Anthony Herrera, who had shoulder surgery during the offseason, is the only starter who could miss the minicamps. ... The Vikings will continue their tour around the state to convince people of the need for a new stadium when some players and executives make appearances at Marshall on May 11.

Don't be surprised if Flip Saunders, in his new job as coach of the Washington Wizards, adds his son Ryan to his coaching staff in some capacity. Ryan was on the Gophers staff the past year.

Former Timberwolves All-Star swingman Wally Szczerbiak averaged a career-worst 7.0 points per game this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first time in his career he averaged below 10.0 points. His 20.6 minutes per game also was a career-worst for the Wolves' 1999 first-round pick out of Miami (Ohio), and he started only five of 74 games this season. He saw even less action in the Cavaliers' four-game sweep of the Pistons, averaging 2.0 points and 9.5 minutes per game. But he has said he doesn't mind his role because the Cavaliers are among the favorites to win the NBA championship. ... Former Wolves forward Joe Smith also is with the Cavaliers, and he is contributing a little bit more than Szczerbiak. Smith averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game against the Pistons. Smith, who also played for Cleveland last season, rejoined the Cavs in March after receiving a buyout from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Adam Bailey, a former Gophers placekicker, is in his fourth year as a St. Paul patrolman and he was on duty at the Gophers spring game at St. Thomas University last week. ... It's official: Stephen F. Austin, winner of the Southland Conference last year will be on the Gophers men's basketball schedule next season.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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