FORT MYERS, FLA. - The Sundance Kid turned to his partner, Mr. Cassidy, and said: "You just keep thinkin', Butch. That's what you're good at."

That's a line that comes to mind when Ron Gardenhire, the Twins' manager, publicly reveals one of his offseason brainstorms. He had a couple that were intriguing this winter:

One, Joe Mauer would be taking ground balls at third base (and maybe first) when the Twins assembled for spring training. Two, Michael Cuddyer might see some action in center field.

Taken any ground balls at third? "Not really," Mauer said. "I've taken a few while standing there in batting practice. But infield work ... no."

How about our guy Cuddy in center field -- any of that? "Not that I've seen," Mauer said.

Keep thinkin', Gardy; that's what you're good at. As long as you don't act on the brainstorms, this lineup has a chance to be OK.

The Cuddyer-to-CF deal was something the manager tossed out to give fans something to talk about on the winter caravan and at TwinsFest. The Mauer suggestion came after a 2007 season in which he was limited to 88 catching starts because of leg ailments.

Gardenhire's purpose in raising the possibility of infield work for Mauer probably was done to mollify the element of Twins Region that has been obsessed about moving him to another position since the knee injury of 2004.

The e-mails and other communiqués from those folks have been absent through the first two weeks of exhibition games. Of course, as soon as Mauer takes a foul ball off the flap of a shin guard, the chorus will start:

"The Twins are idiots! He's too tall to be a catcher! He's more brittle than Tarvaris Jackson! They have to move him to prolong his career!"

And on and on, as Mauer has gone from being the most honored all-around athlete in Minnesota prep history to the Twins' No. 1 figure of controversy in that netherworld of electronic journalism.

The e-mailers and the blog respondents can raise a ruckus, even if they amount to a maximum of 5,000 loud voices in a base of probably a half-million fans that pays attention to what's happening with the Twins.

You would have to assume that the quiet 495,000 has a strong majority that understands you don't move a 25-year-old (on April 19) who handles the game's most complex position better than anyone in his league until it's absolutely necessary.

What the team and the player must do after a season such as 2007 is exactly what they did: The Twins asked Mauer to put in more work on his legs, he did so, and he has looked beyond fit this spring.

(Bulletin: There was tape on Mauer's left ankle before Friday's game -- quick, get on a blog and start the panic.)

Shots have been taken about Mauer's lack of power through his three seasons as the Twins' No. 1 catcher. Things turned more personal in 2007, when he was criticized for a perceived lack of toughness.

He showed some irritation when this point was raised, but nothing more. This week, he was back to his unflappable self when asked about the critics of 2007.

"I've learned over the years that no matter what you do in a situation, somebody is not going to agree with it," he said. "You can't change that."

Mauer was a three-sport star at Cretin-Derham Hall. He was the No. 1 overall draft choice with the Twins in 2001. He was 20 when he started at catcher for the 2004 season opener in the Metrodome.

Bottom line: He had spent his life being told he was a great athlete, and then came the summer of shots.

It was mentioned to Mauer that many sports figures -- Kevin McHale comes to mind -- change their public persona completely when the first rips arrive. He then was asked how a 24-year-old has the composure to shrug off those first unkind words as an athlete.

"No matter what people on the outside want to say, I know that I have higher expectations for myself than anyone else," Mauer said. "A bad day catching or at the plate bothers me more than it's going to bother them."

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •