Joe Mauer never had a part in the school play. From a young age, he loved performing on athletic fields, but had little interest in the performing arts. One morning in elementary school, Mauer told his mother, Teresa, he was sick. This was odd ... he didn't look ill and was usually happy on his way to class. Turns out, he was trying to avoid singing in an all-school concert. "He just didn't want to do it," Teresa said.
While winning three batting titles, two Gold Gloves and last year's American League MVP award, the Twins catcher has remained humble and a little camera shy. But suddenly, he's turning up everywhere, pitching milk, ice cream, fitness centers and video games.
Mauer has started building an off-the-field empire, turning his name into a brand. The St. Paul kid has become one of the most recognizable players in Major League Baseball, with a steady stream of companies approaching his agents for endorsements.
He's done commercials for Kemps, Anytime Fitness and Sony PlayStation. He has deals with Nike and Rawlings and has done some work for Gatorade and Pepsi. Doug Shabelman, president of Burns Entertainment and Sports Marketing in Evanston, Ill., estimates that Mauer is pulling in between $2 million and $4 million annually from endorsements. This is small change compared to Tiger Woods, whose annual endorsement income once approached $100 million, but Mauer ranks with other top-earning ballplayers, including New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who makes about $8 million per year in endorsements.
"He's got the all-American story," Shabelman said of Mauer. "He's got a great reputation for being humble and generous. You combine that with an incredible career, and the people he has representing him, and he'll have some good opportunities."
Picking and choosing
Just as he is in the batter's box, Mauer is very selective. His advisers say he turns down far more endorsement work than he does.
"I don't do anything that I don't believe in," Mauer said. "I'm not going to do things just to make a quick buck."
He really doesn't need the money. At age 27, he's already made about $40 million from the Twins, and his $184 million contract extension kicks in next year.
Last fall, Mauer signed with IMG, a New York marketing firm whose other sports clients include Woods, NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, race car driver Danica Patrick and tennis star Maria Sharapova.
"When we chose IMG, we made clear to them that Joe's top priority still was delivering for the Twins," said Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro. "It wasn't to deliver commercial opportunities that overwhelm him. It was to balance those opportunities with his obligation to be the best baseball player he can be."
By his standards, Mauer is having a tough season. After leading the AL last year in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.587), he was batting .297 with a .373 OBP and .426 slugging percentage entering play Saturday.
His popularity hasn't suffered, however. He led all major leaguers in this year's All-Star balloting with nearly 4 million votes, about 600,000 more than second-ranked Jeter.
Of course, Jeter has won five World Series as a shortstop for the Yankees. According to this month's Davie-Brown Index -- an independent survey that measures celebrities' national awareness and appeal -- 79 percent of Americans can identify Jeter by name or face, compared to 24 percent for Mauer.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was at 36 percent and quarterback Brett Favre was at 84. But in those same surveys, Mauer outscores Jeter, Favre and Peterson in categories such as appeal, influence and trust.
A wholesome image
"Nationally, [Mauer's] awareness isn't that high, but of the people who know him, they like him quite a bit," said Matt Fleming, a spokesman for Davie Brown Entertainment. "One thing that affects his awareness is he's not in a major market. And for a lot of athletes, their awareness climbs when they're in the news for the wrong reasons. To his credit, he hasn't had anything along those lines."
Fleming said of the 2,505 celebrities studied in the latest Davie-Brown Index, Mauer ranked 29th in the aspiration category, which measures how much consumers aspire to be like these celebrities. Fleming said two celebrities with aspiration scores similar to Mauer's were Carrie Underwood and Bill Cosby, so he's in good company.
The two commercials Mauer shot for Kemps in May feed off this wholesome image. The St. Paul company even persuaded Mauer's mother to join the fun. In one spot, Teresa Mauer is getting her son some ice cream when she sends a scoop flying into the air like a pop foul behind home plate. Mauer puts down his newspaper, turns his hat backward and uses his bowl to make a lunging catch. Mauer said Kemps is a natural fit for him because he actually grew up eating their ice cream.
"My dad always kids around with those guys [at IMG], saying 'Can you get me deals with Jack Link's [beef jerky], Bud Light or Miller Lite?'" Mauer said. "But, yeah, that's not me."
Kemps wanted a way to reinforce its place as a local brand that appeals to mothers and children. Rachel Kyllo, the company's vice president of marketing, said the idea came up during a strategy session in late-March -- just after the Twins ended months of suspense by signing Mauer to his eight-year contract extension.
Until that signing, Twins fans faced the prospect of losing Mauer to free agency this fall. Signing to play for the Yankees, New York Mets or Boston Red Sox would have put him in a bigger market. But he might have lost his appeal to Minnesota companies such as Kemps and Anytime Fitness.
There's no coaching
Kemps knew all about Mauer's contract extension with the Twins when they pursued the endorsement deal. "Just knowing how well-loved he is in this state, it made all the sense in the world for us," Kyllo said.
Mauer has been well-known in Minnesota circles since high school. Nationally, his popularity soared last year. The Davie-Brown Index started tracking his consumer appeal last September as he wrapped up his MVP campaign. Soon after Mauer signed with IMG, he graced the cover of ESPN The Magazine, which dubbed him "America's Fan-Friendliest Athlete." The story focused on how Mauer answers every piece of fan mail, with his mother's help.
In late-January, about 4,000 people packed Cretin-Derham Hall's gymnasium to see Mauer interviewed by Rick Reilly for ESPN's "Homecoming" series. Mauer was anything but camera shy that night. He was relaxed and funny.
"IMG's not providing any coaching or anything like that," said Ira Stahlberger, one of Mauer's agents at IMG. "That's not our role. These guys have to be true to who they are. One of the things that people don't know about Joe is he's got a great sense of humor."
Mauer had another chance to show it in early February, when he was in Southern California, filming his ad for Sony PlayStation's "MLB 10 The Show." Like Dustin Pedroia one year earlier, Mauer played the part of a reigning MVP, getting shrugged off by fictional PlayStation executive Kevin Butler. When Butler acts like he hasn't heard of Mauer, the catcher produces a photo of Butler in a swimsuit. Butler's smirk disappears, and he says, "Well-played, Mauer."
The commercial was a hit with Mauer's friends. "They definitely liked it," he said. "It's funny, some of the guys around the league will come up and say, 'Well played,' and stuff like that."
IMG's Stahlberger said other companies have discussed doing national ads with Mauer. One company to watch is Gatorade. Mauer joined Usain Bolt and Serena Williams as guest speakers at a Gatorade employee conference in Chicago last November. The sports-drink company hasn't signed Mauer to a deal, but as he said, "It's obviously something I use quite frequently, so that would be great."
If Mauer doesn't need the money, why do any of this? For Mauer, it's also a chance to branch out a little.
"I don't know if he has any interest in doing this after his career's over, but it gives him a chance to see," Teresa Mauer said. "It's another learning experience for him, and he's like a sponge. He soaks everything in."
He's having fun, too. Sony product manager Chris Munson watched Mauer work at the PlayStation shoot.
"He got into the script wholeheartedly," Munson said in an e-mail. "Even off-camera, he and Kevin [Butler] were riffing off of each other, which added to the camaraderie on the set."
Imagine that -- Joe Mauer, riffing off-camera. His classmates from St. Columba Elementary would hardly believe it.