Joe Mauer disappeared from the Twins lineup on the afternoon of April 13 and missed 57 games because of the sorriest explanations of his injuries imaginable.
The Twins couldn't get him out of the Target Field rehab facilities and onto the grass for weeks. And when he did get sent out to try to play, it was to Fort Myers, from where he refused to budge -- not even joining his brother Jake's Miracle for the short ride to Bradenton.
The Twins would have liked Mauer to play a couple of games with Class AAA Rochester before returning to Minnesota. He declined, so the Twins signed on to the idea that Mauer could gain as much by taking glorified batting practice against rehabbing Joe Nathan on Wednesday in Fort Myers.
Many Twins followers gnashed teeth during Mauer's absence. They sent anti-Mauer e-mails and attached vicious comments to Mauer stories that appeared on startribune.com and other websites.
We had been tortured as Minnesota sports fans in 2010 and in the early months of 2011. We weren't going to take a $23 million ballplayer who seemed in no hurry to start earning some of that pay.
And then Mauer stepped back onto the most popular green space in downtown Minneapolis on Friday night, and the 39,000 witnesses could not have greeted him more warmly if he had been a member of the force that attacked Osama bin Laden's compound.
Which, by the way, occurred on the 19th day of Mauer's absence.
We learned early that the tough guys sending the electronic communiqués were not the type to actually shell out for a ticket to a ballgame. The lineups were announced a few minutes before the first pitch and, when P.A. announcer Adam Abrams said that No. 7 Joe Mauer was catching and batting third, the crowd erupted in cheers.
A reporter made a visit to the fourth deck, figuring this was where the blue-collar folks hung out and that some might be struggling with the idea of Mauer's poor job attendance.
A woman in her 50s was waiting for a beer in the Twins Pub. She was asked if there were plans in her group to boo Mauer when he came to the plate.
Her eyes grew wide and she said, "No, why?" as if there were some news she had missed. The idea of booing Mauer for a mysterious absence that lasted two months and five days ... that never occurred to this lady.
Nor was booing Joe a possibility for Gina McNeir, a young woman from Coon Rapids. "Absolutely, I'm thrilled that Joe's back, and I'm here to cheer for him," she said.
To prove this, Gina chose the Mauer No. 7 as her Twins jersey from among several options.
Twins starter Brian Duensing wiggled through a scoreless top of the first, the music played and the advertising ran for a couple of minutes, and then came the Twins.
Ben Revere reached on an error. Alexi Casilla singled. And now it was Mauer being introduced in person, and this time the cheers added up to a roar, and 75 percent of the customers rose for a standing ovation.
A case could be made that this was the most massive example of enabling poor preparation in Minnesota history.
"My issue is with the whole Twins team," said a man in his 40s from Chanhassen. "They went to spring training, they didn't play enough to get ready for the season, and as the result, they dug this big hole. And Joe was Example A of that."
When asked his name, the gentleman went with Eric N. As the only fan detected booing Mauer in several sections of the Legends Club, he wanted to preserve a degree of anonymity.
"I'm extremely surprised," he said. "I was convinced -- listening to sports talk radio for the past couple weeks -- that there were going to be plenty of boos for Joe when he finally came back.
"The only boos I heard were mine. And when I did it, the guy sitting in front of me turned around and stared."
Mauer bounced an RBI single through the middle in that first at-bat. The cheers exploded again.
He was back up in the second and grounded into a double play. "Hey, 6-4-3 ... now, Joe really is back,'' a man shouted.
It was me.
Somebody had to do it.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • email@example.com