Joe Mauer’s sports legacy in Minnesota is as storied as any athlete in state history. You can trace his career back to when he was one of the greatest prep athletes in history and end it on Saturday when he will have his number retired by the Twins, just eight months after he played his final game at Target Field.

He first showed up in my column in 1999 when it was apparent that he was the best prep football player in the nation, but even then I noted that the word was that baseball was his best sport.

Two years later, in February 2001, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan told me that the team was already leaning toward drafting Mauer with the No. 1 overall pick.

“We’re going to be watching Mauer this spring, and right now he ranks as high with us as any other player,” Ryan said. “There is a good chance we would take him No. 1. He is the best prospect I’ve seen since I joined the Twins here.”

Mauer would go on to do things at the plate that no catcher in the history of baseball had ever done.

He won three batting titles, something that was impossible to think of before he did it. He made six All-Star Games. He won the MVP in 2009 with one of the greatest hitting seasons in baseball history as he led the AL in average (.365), on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.587).

There were often rumblings that Mauer didn’t like talking to the media, but he always made time for me. You’d often have to wait until long after most of the players had emptied the locker room, but then Mauer would come out and take questions.

It always seemed like he was under scrutiny, even while he performed in ways that no player in club history ever had. Anytime the Twins struggled, fans and media members brought up his contract as if it hampered the team from signing players. Anytime he was hurt, they questioned his toughness.

But in five years, Mauer will be a Hall of Famer, even though injuries and concussion symptoms took away some of his later years at catcher and some of his hitting ability.

Mauer signed the biggest contract in club history with his eight-year, $184 million extension in 2010.

That was the same year that Target Field opened, ushering in a new era for the Twins after they had nearly been contracted a decade earlier.

Mauer made the All-Star Game in three of the first four years of that deal.

And that contract never held the Twins back from signing other players.

All it did was keep one of the greatest athletes from the state of Minnesota with his hometown club for his entire incredible career.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. E-mail: shartman@startribune.com