Nothing ordinary about this Joe

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 29, 2006 - 1:14 AM

His sideburns and low-key demeanor have made the Twins catcher a fan favorite. But his hot bat has stirred up Mauer Mania.

Everyone wants a piece of Joe Mauer these days -- or at least a facsimile. As if Joe Mauer Bobblehead Day and Joe Mauer Autographed Bat Day weren't enough, the Twins are planning a Joe Mauer Sideburn Day, in which fans will receive synthetic sideburns.

"You put the name 'Mauer' or Joe's No. 7 on any item and it sells," Matt Noll, Twins merchandise director, said Wednesday about an hour before baseball's top hitter continued his assault on major league pitching with two more hits in a 6-3 Minnesota victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That gave Mauer 11 hits in 13 at-bats during the three-game series sweep of the Dodgers.

Mauer is batting an eye-popping .392, and Mauer Mania is everywhere. Those "Vote Joe" buttons, imploring fans to vote the Twins catcher onto the American League All-Star team, are worn very close to those fans' hearts these days. Balloting for All-Star Game starters ends at 11 CDT tonight.

Mauer is currently third among American League catchers. He'll almost be certainly named to the July 11 All-Star Game as a reserve, if his vote total rally doesn't make him an All Star. The Twins are enticing people to vote by entering those who do so in a drawing for a chance to meet Mauer before a game next month.

On Wednesday -- a day when Twins ace Johan Santana pitched seven shutout innings and Torii Hunter hit a grand slam -- talk in the stands was largely about the kid from St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall. A sign in the stands proclaiming "Mauer Power" said it all.

"He's challenging .400!" said Grady Appleton, 42, of St. Paul.

And no major league player, not even the great Rod Carew, has hit .400 since Ted Williams did so 65 years ago.

Appleton was one of dozens of grown men and women wearing Mauer jerseys, priced between $70 and $125. Deb Trainer, 45, of Eagan, said after getting her Mauer jersey, she got one for her husband, as an anniversary gift. Sam Runck, 47, of Eagan, wore her daughter's Mauer jersey, noting that she's hoping Mauer will be her son-in-law.

"He's awesome, and he's a local boy," said Jena Magee, 19, of Maplewood. "And he's cute."

"Totally cute," interrupted her friend, Alecia Evenson, 20, of Woodbury.

Sporting goods manufacturers are just as infatuated.

"He's become an A player nationally," the Twins' Noll said. Often team officials, trying to promote their player, make initial contact with sporting goods companies. But in Mauer's case, those companies are contacting the Twins, Noll said.

'Joe was really nice to me'

Mauer says he's not sure what to make of all the fuss.

"I'm just trying to keep doing what I've always been doing, but it gets hectic," he said after Wednesday's game. "I just try not to pay any attention to that stuff."

At the game, Mauer T-shirts were seen in all sizes and several colors. Vendors sold Mauer teddy bears, dog-tags and baseballs with his picture; Mauer baseball cards on plaques were sold out at most stands.

Josh Walter, 12, and Jacob Kato, 12, both of Alexandria, wore artificial Mauer-like sideburns.

And in St. Paul, the kid with the original synthetic Mauer sideburns -- the kid featured with Mauer in a popular Twins' TV spot -- could only marvel at his hero's hot streak and his cheerful demeanor.

"Joe was really nice to me," said Jake Cunningham, 11. "Before we did the commercial, he came and introduced himself to me -- like I wouldn't know him. When the commercial was done, he invited me into the dugout and gave me a signed bat. "And I got to keep the sideburns. You use this stick stuff and they stay on for hours."

Doing stuff with friends

"How glamorous is Joe's life?" asked Tony Leseman, a former Cretin-Derham Hall teammate and former University of Minnesota player. "Sunday night, we watched the College World Series together [on TV]."

After going 4-for-5 against the Dodgers on Monday night, Mauer celebrated by going bowling with lifelong friend Larry Nava.

"I talk to him every day, and if I didn't watch the game that night, I won't know how he did because he never mentions a thing," Nava said. "But he always asks how my day went.

"That's just Joe. He really is a St. Paul guy."

Other St. Paul players have made it big -- Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield are in the Hall of Fame and Jack Morris is knocking on its door -- but this St. Paul guy is dating former Miss USA Chelsea Cooley. Otherwise, little has changed.

"What can you say?" asked his father, Jake Mauer. "The kid's doing well. But he's always been popular. It's been like this since he was in high school," when Mauer was the national player of the year in baseball and football.

Larry Norder, owner of Air Freight Unlimited, said Mauer still comes around to Concordia University's baseball field to watch the amateur team Norder manages.

"Joe's just Joe," Norder said. "Whether he goes 5-for-5 or 0-for-5, I'm sure he gets to sleep at night. He just doesn't go 0-for-5, that's all."

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    Thursday June 29, 2006

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