“He’s always been fearless, and probably still is. But now you don’t have the [catcher’s] gear on. So you’ve got to get out of the way,” said Kelly, who has played and taught the position for more than 40 years. “We’ve covered some things about keeping from straying into the basepath. Getting your arm out of the way, your wrist, your legs. Basic stuff, but it’s new to him.”
New and necessary, because the Twins, who haven’t gotten more than 107 games in the field from Mauer since 2008, are intent upon him staying healthy. Mauer has noted to anyone who will listen how much better his body feels, freed from all the squatting behind the plate.
“Believe me, he wants to do very well. That’s his personality, that’s why he’s as good as he is. He’ll work hard at it,” Kelly said. “If he doesn’t do very well, I’d be shocked.”
Mauer was shocked, he said, at how much he still had to learn after playing the position part-time for a couple of years. No longer just a break from his real job, first base is a test he intends to ace.
“I was talking to [converted Boston Red Sox catcher] Mike Napoli — ‘Yeah, it’s not as easy as people think, huh?’ ” Mauer said. “But that’s exciting. I love challenges. I love to learn new things about this game. I’m always trying to get better, always trying to pick things up and apply them. And now I have a pretty big thing to learn.”
And baseball can learn something more about Mauer, same as he ever was. “Once people get to know me, they realize I’m really not that cool. You know, ‘Oh, it’s just Joe,’ ” said the extraordinary ordinary man. “I like being that guy. I feel pretty normal at home, and I try to keep it that way.”