It's all hints and innuendo with Joe Mauer these days, seemingly tacit acknowledgements that yes, it's possible that on Monday, he won't be a baseball player anymore.
Driving to Target Field on Friday morning, for instance, "it hit me a little bit," the Twins first baseman said. "The end of the season sneaks up on you. Here we are, the last weekend — [I'm] just trying to enjoy it."
Is that a clue to his intentions? Mauer isn't saying. But then he went out and played both games of the doubleheader — at his request. Is that a sign?
"He has an interest in maybe playing them all," manager Paul Molitor said. "We'll see how today goes."
Here's how it went: Singles in his first two at-bats in the first game, and he scored a run on an infield grounder. He led off the second game with a single, too, and scored on Mitch Garver's double. He walked in the second inning and scored again, then singled in the sixth and received a standing ovation when Molitor sent pinch runner Gregorio Petit to first base.
"I always feel that if I'm available to play, I want to play. I'd like to be out there," Mauer said, not giving away anything. "I've said all along this year, I'm just going to go out and enjoy it."
That doesn't mean he loves every part of the job. Mauer arrives at least five hours before first pitch every day, then dives into a time-consuming regimen that he believes keeps his body healthy enough to play.
"You guys don't see me for a reason. I'm doing something to try to make [my] body feel better, recover from the night before and get ready for that night," said Mauer, who raised his season batting average to .280 Friday with his 4-for-8 day. "It's a total-body type of thing — stretching, lifting [weights], exercises."
Molitor, whose Hall of Fame playing career lasted until he was 42, knows how much work goes into getting ready for games. "That's not the enjoyable part of the day. You're willing to do it because of the dividend on the competing stuff. But at some point, they start to run into each other," Molitor said. "I don't see too much of Joe until we get onto the field. I know he's in the weight room. He's got a stretching program and a diet program. It's just a long process that he feels he can trust, and it keeps him feeling well enough to play at this level."
The fun part for Mauer is playing the games — and serving as master of ceremonies of a postgame celebration if the Twins win. For the past three seasons, Mauer has handed out a game ball after each victory, not to the player who had the best stats or the big night, but to a player who did something small that contributed to the win. Going first to third on a single, say, or bailing the starting pitcher out of a jam. It's an idea he got from playing football and hockey.
"It's the little things that matter. They take care of the big things," outfielder Max Kepler said. "Acknowledging teammates after the game is awesome. It's something that every team should do in any sport, just acknowledge your teammates' efforts."
Perhaps most surprising, the Twins say: Mauer makes everyone laugh.
"People have kind of a perception of a quiet demeanor, but he has no problem being able to hold the room. One of the best things is the way he doesn't miss anything in the game. He has a pretty good sense of where the biggest credit should be," Molitor said. "And he's funny, so how about that?"