The move became real in February, when Mauer reported to camp without his shin guards, chest protector and catcher’s mask. And even while he explains how he has embraced the change, it’s not hard to detect his mixed emotions.
“I came up a catcher, and it was kind of my identity back there. I’m definitely going to miss it — I do miss it,” Mauer said. “I miss calling a game, and working with the pitcher, and trying to do little things that most people don’t recognize but that have a huge impact on the game.”
But catching would mean risking another concussion, with the likelihood that each one could be progressively worse. Perhaps six months of fogginess instead of three, 139 games missed instead of 39. And even less time with his wife and daughters.
“I think that did it,” said Glen Perkins, Mauer’s teammate and fellow Minnesotan. “He’s got a family to think of.”
The Mauer twins
Now 8 months old, Emily and Maren Mauer weigh about 20 pounds apiece. Or just about perfect for an upper-body workout.
“He puts them in car seats, and carries them around like he’s weightlifting,” Teresa, grandmother to Joe’s first children, said, laughing. “I think he [considers] it part of his training. You never see him with just one.”
It has been enjoyable for his friends and family to watch him widen his list of priorities, too, from hitting and catching to bottles and diapers, all with his patented cheerful stoicism. Mauer made it easier for his siblings, cousins and in-laws to take part in raising the twins, too, by abandoning his normal habit of skipping Minnesota’s winters for his Florida bachelor pad. Mauer jokes that the decision was based on deepening his roster of baby sitters, but his parents believe it’s more about nesting.
“I think he realized it’s time to come back. Maddie’s family is in Minnesota, we’re all there, all his nieces and nephews and cousins are there,” Jake Mauer Jr. said. “When you’re young and single, where else would you be but in Florida? But now he’s thinking of other people, too.”
Thinking, raising, doting. The stuff most men turn to as they reach 30 years old, as Mauer did last June. He may have the wealth and the fame and the accomplishments, but those around him believe that Mauer sort of knew all along that more important stuff would come along.
“He’s always been a family man at his core, and now he’s got his own kids,’’ said Twins President Dave St. Peter. “That doesn’t change who he is, it reinforces it.”
It likely reinforces his instinct to shy away from public life, too, to minimize the intrusions that his profession, not to mention the modern social-media watchdog culture, makes on his family. But Mauer always has been even-keeled, compliant. He signs autographs, makes public appearances, represents his team. This July, he will be Minnesota’s ambassador to the All-Star Game, adding responsibilities as host to the burden of playing baseball.
“He’s been given a lot of attention, had a lot of demands placed upon him, and sometimes he gets a little tired of that,” Antony said. “But I don’t think he’s ever disrespectful to people or doesn’t treat people well. I wouldn’t expect that to ever change.”
No, because change is something that happens around Mauer, not to him. He’s getting older — “It’s a little weird being the old guy,” he admits — but doesn’t feel like he’s nearing any sort of a finale, not for a long time.
In fact, he feels like he’s just getting to first base.
Down the line
Lesson No. 1 at Tom Kelly’s school for converted first basemen involved the dress code.
Look at your uniform, the manager told his new star pupil. There is no armor around your legs, no padding on your chest. Forget your instincts about bracing for collisions, because contact is a bad idea for an infielder.