FORT MYERS, FLA. -- It was a quiet evening with his wife, nothing special about it. Joe and Maddie Mauer had a handful of errands to run after the Twins’ spring workout that day, and a baby sitter was watching the girls. The couple decided to grab dinner on the way home, not at some fancy five-star bistro on the beach, but at a chain restaurant they passed on the highway.
Shortly after the Mauers left, their waitress took to Twitter to announce it. “Just served Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins!” she wrote. “He gave me a fat tip!”
The next morning, the Twins first baseman rolled his eyes when told about the tweet. “Glad I left enough, I guess,” Mauer said. “You never know who’s watching.”
Would he prefer that nobody did? Would he give up his fame, his status as one of Minnesota’s most recognizable icons, if he could just play baseball in anonymity? “Absolutely,” he said with a smile. “In a second.”
That’s the thing about Mauer: He just wants to be an Average, Everyday Joe.
Ready to hit
Tom Kelly has watched more baseball, critiqued more ballplayers than just about any Minnesotan alive. Yet even the longtime Twins manager still stops what he’s doing to watch Joe Mauer when he’s on deck.
When he’s at the plate, too, of course. But Kelly believes Mauer’s uniqueness emerges 25 feet from the batter’s box, before he ever sees a pitch. “I’ve always thought we should film Joe getting ready for his at-bats and show it to young players,” Kelly said. “He has a calm about him that’s pretty special. He always so quiet, always focused. Very confident, very deliberate. He gets more ready to hit than anyone I’ve seen.”
It’s not just in uniform, though. That calm, that serenity infuses Mauer’s entire life, from the modest, bland demeanor of his public image to a determined, protective persona his friends and family see. And it has come in handy over the past several months, as his baseball career and private life have each entered a new era, undergoing enormous, fundamental changes. Some have been difficult and disappointing, others ecstatic and blissful; none has visibly transformed him, or even ruffled his hair.
In fact, it’s fair to say just about everything has changed about Joe Mauer lately — except Joe Mauer.
“Everything that comes at him, he just takes it in stride. He’s always been that way,” said Jake Mauer Jr., Joe’s father. “It’s probably part of why he’s always been so good at sports. He doesn’t let things rattle him like most people. He seemed like a grown-up when he was 16.”
Never has that preternatural maturity undergone more stress tests, though, than over the past 15 months. Since just before Christmas 2012, the Twins’ homegrown MVP has married his sweetheart and moved his offseason residence back to Minnesota. He’s watched Justin Morneau, his closest friend in baseball, depart the Twins, leaving him as the final remaining link to the team’s decade of success. He delivered a statistically admirable yet oddly unsatisfying baseball season of his own, and endured a third straight bitter slog of a season as a team. He suffered a painful and frightening head injury, then reluctantly agreed to surrender the position that made him a star. Most of all, Mauer savored the ecstasy of witnessing the birth of his twin daughters, Maren and Emily, and withstood the misery of a concussion-induced haze that sometimes prevented him from being with them.
“Yeah, that was scary for a while,” Teresa Mauer said of her son’s nearly-three-month ordeal after being hit on the head in August by a foul ball, a condition that made him sensitive to the noise of a baby’s cry and the light of a baby’s bedroom. “You don’t know when it’s going to go away. And you hear stories about guys who, it never went away.”
That occurred to Mauer, too, since Morneau, as close as a brother when they were teammates, suffered similar symptoms for months. The fuzziness eventually waned, but Morneau’s career did, too, and that prospect disturbed Mauer.
“I’ve seen him go through it, but to actually feel it … ” Mauer said, contemplating the uncertainty that dogged him every time he had to squint in a normally lit room. “I would recall some of the things he would say, how he was feeling. [Now I’m] like, ‘Wow, he was hurting pretty good.’ ”
Mauer absorbed a different type of hurt, however, when Twins General Manager Terry Ryan met with him in November to deliver a command disguised as a prescription: No more catching. Suddenly, his major league persona was pulled out from under him, the position he had spent half his life mastering now off limits. He earned an MVP in 2009 as a catcher, made the All-Star team six times behind the plate. The Twins were paying him $184 million because he is worth more as a catcher than anything else.
He took some convincing.
Mauer would have preferred remaining at catcher, said assistant GM Rob Antony, but ultimately “Joe said, ‘OK, it’s good for the team and it’s probably good for me in the long haul.’ ”