FORT MYERS, FLA. - Jake Mauer has a lot in common with his players. He's young and talented. He's adding baseball knowledge and experience every day.
And one more thing: "I'd like to get to the big leagues, one way or another," he said.
He never got there as an infielder, walking away at 26 after an elbow injury made it clear he would never rise above Class AA. But Mauer, now 33, kept his baseball career alive in the dugout, first by instructing the Twins' youngest prospects in the Gulf Coast League and for the past three years by managing the Fort Myers Miracle.
"I wish I could still play. I miss that part of it," said Mauer, who retired in 2005 after five seasons in the Twins organization. "But this is still competing, just in a different way. It's been a good fit."
He would fit in a major-league dugout, too, as a coach, perhaps, or maybe someday as a manager. For now, though, he's busy developing his persona as a leader.
"I'm not a screamer," Mauer said. "I'll drop the hammer if I have to, but I'll never criticize a player for trying, for doing something he thought was right. We'll talk about it and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Hmm, soft-spoken and deliberate. Sound like a Mauer you know?
"Well, I'm probably a little more emotional than Joe is, but not a lot. Maybe more talkative, a little more outgoing," Mauer said, referring to his younger brother, who was chosen only 676 spots before Jake in the 2001 draft. "People say we look and sound alike. I'm not going to say that's a bad thing."
He also has the same calm, soothing way of working with pitchers, his players say -- including a pair of Minnesotans. Cole Nelson, the Edina lefthander acquired from Detroit in last year's Delmon Young trade, and Madison Boer, a righthander from Eden Prairie who was the Twins' second-round pick a year ago, are in the Miracle's rotation.
After losing his first six decisions and posting an 11.22 ERA, Boer started telling himself "that I'm not horrible. That I can play baseball. That I shouldn't just quit and go back to school," he said. By making a few changes in his mechanics, he has won his past four decisions.
Nelson is gradually stretching himself out after opening the season in the bullpen, though he didn't survive the third inning in his past two starts. "In college, you play three games a week, but here, it's every single day, so your arm doesn't bounce back as quick as it used to," Nelson said.
Boer said it helps to have so many Minnesotans, including Mauer and former Gophers catcher Kyle Knudson, around the clubhouse. Well, usually.
"There's no special treatment from Jake," Boer said. "I'm an Eden Prairie native, he went to Cretin. My sister was at the [2000 football state championship game] when we beat Joe Mauer. So we're rivals."