Fort Myers, Fla. – Minnesotans first became aware of Joe Mauer when he starred at Cretin-Derham High School. We’ve followed his career for about 15 years. One of these days, we might even get to know him.
What’s rattling around in Mauer’s large, bespectacled cranium?
I asked the two people in the organization closest to Mauer what’s going through his head this spring, as he moves from catcher to first base and faces the possibility of a fourth consecutive losing season.
Jake Mauer, Joe’s brother, and Glen Perkins, the Twins’ closer, are the two Twins employees who spend the most time with Joe away from the ballpark. Asked separately what Joe’s thinking, they produced the same answer.
“He talks about winning a championship in Minnesota,” said Jake, the manager of the Twins’ Class A affiliate in Cedar Rapids.
“When we’re away from the park, what we talk about is how great it would be to win a World Series with this team, the team we grew up watching,” Perkins said.
“That’s it, really,” Mauer said. “I liked catching, being in the middle of everything. But when it comes right down to it, I want to be on the field, I want to help us win.”
The most often abused cliché in pro sports is “I just want to help the team win.” It’s a fallback answer for anyone trying to avoid offering an insightful or politically incorrect answer.
This wasn’t Mauer searching for the appropriate cliché. This was Mauer acknowledging that when he speaks with the people closest to him, he doesn’t yearn for 3,000 hits or the Hall of Fame. He’s sick of losing, and aware of what winning would mean for his legacy, not to mention his mood.
“We always talk about what it would be like to be born-and-raised Minnesotans who spent our whole career with the Twins and won it all,” Perkins said. “To get to experience what Kent Hrbek did.”
Jake Mauer, like everyone in his family, is also acutely aware that Joe would benefit greatly, personally and perceptually, from leading a resurgence. Before Mauer signed his current eight-year, $184 million contract before the 2010 season, he was the nice kid from St. Paul who grew up to be an MVP for his hometown team. Now he’s the guy who signed the bloated contract while his team went into a death spiral.
Measured statistically and objectively, Mauer and Kirby Puckett aren’t very different in terms of value, but Puckett is the symbol of two World Series champions, and Mauer is the face of a fallen franchise.
“I think Kirby being a big part of those two World Series teams has a lot to do with it,” Jake said. “I think if you’d ask Joe, he’d trade all the MVPs and batting titles and honors for one World Series ring. I think that’s really, truly coming from his heart. That’s the main thing.
“That’s why he wanted to stay here. He wanted to get back to the World Series with Minnesota. I know the past three years have been a little tough, no doubt about it.”
It was typical of Mauer that when the Twins announced that he would move permanently from catcher to first base, he expressed no emotion. Perkins and Jake Mauer said the move bothered him.
“He caught for so long,” Jake said. “It kind of becomes prideful when you’re back there. You want to be in control of the game on the defensive side. I know the way it happened it probably wasn’t ideal. I think now that he’s in it and he’s been in it for a while, he’s moving around well, his body feels good. He’s going to be pretty good at first, it just takes a little while.
“I think early he may have been a little down about it, but now we’re seeing he’s going to be in the lineup more, and he’s going to be able to contribute more. That’s really his goal, is to be out there a lot more. And to win. Believe me, he’s ready to start winning again.”
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org