Hello everyone. Welcome to my new blog. (Hat tip to my colleague Howard Sinker for the name).

I'll be blogging all things sports in this spot after several years of contributing to the Access Vikings blog. Guess the best place to start is with the mess taking place at Target Field.

I was at Vikings practice on Thursday preparing for Saturday's preseason opener so I missed the events that took place before and after a series sweep by the Baltimore Orioles.

While the Jim Thome trade to Cleveland grabbed the biggest headlines, the latest Joe Mauer injury situation intrigued me more than any other development.

By now you know that Mauer showed up to the ballpark with a stiff neck and told manager Ron Gardenhire that he couldn't play. That came against the backdrop of Michael Cuddyer forcing his way into the lineup after getting drilled in the wrist the previous night.

Mauer has appeared in only 70 games this season and his absences have become a sore subject and punchline among fans. Mauer was asked by reporters after the game about the perception that he is "soft."

"Who's saying that?" Mauer said. "I think you ask anybody in here, anybody in this organization, they'll tell you different.
"Ever since I came back I missed one game [before Thursday]. People know in here how tough I am. I come to the park ready to play. Today I just physically couldn't get out there."

Any athlete scoffs at having the "soft" label attached to his name, but Mauer must be living in a bubble if he isn't aware of the public frustration over his in-and-out season. How could he not know?

It's always tricky trying to qualify or judge an athlete's injury situation because that person is truly the only person that knows the severity of what's going on. But we often hear coaches and athletes talk about the line that separates being injured and being hurt. There's a big difference.

The problem with Mauer's latest malaise is the timing of it. The walls are crumbling around the Twins, their season officially a complete disaster. They hit rock bottom Thursday.

That's exactly the time when team leaders need to step forward no matter what. Just like Cuddyer did. You think he felt like playing yesterday? I'm sure his wrist felt like someone took a sledgehammer to it, but he insisted on being in the lineup.

I have no doubt that Mauer's neck hurt. I'm sure it probably was painful to swing a bat or look up to catch a fly ball. He told reporters he even had trouble driving to the ballpark.

I've known Mauer since his high school days and admired his competitiveness, whether it was football, basketball or baseball. But yesterday raised eyebrows, it felt different. Staring at a potential sweep against the worst team in the American League, he needed to show his teammates that he was willing to give it a go, even if it meant striking out three times. 

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