I promise that’s not just a cheap clickbait headline about the difference between Zach Parise and Joe Mauer. And I promise it’s not a cheap pile-on aimed at the latter. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about off and on for a while now.
Because I feel like on one hand, these two guys are leading parallel lives. They are tremendous athletes, sure, but they are also both Minnesota natives playing out the primes of their careers on massive contracts with their hometown teams (Parise’s is worth $98 million over 13 years, Mauer’s is worth $184 million over 8 years). Their Minnesota roots clearly mean a lot to both of them. Both of them are reasonably low-key and soft-spoken off the field/ice. Mauer married a woman he went to high school with; Parise married his college sweetheart. They even both have twins; Mauer’s were born in 2013, with Parise’s coming about 6 months later.
They are amazingly similar, with one stark exception: on their chosen surfaces of play, Parise exhibits the kind of fire, exuberance and all-out will to win to create an on-ice urgency that roughly 123 percent of Minnesota sports fans would say is their No. 1 priority in a star player. It’s one thing to be great. It’s another thing to care. It’s another thing yet to show exactly how much you care. Parise checks all of those boxes, and as a result fans are willing to forgive any holes in his game (such as, no matter how hard he works, he will never be a natural goal scorer — last night’s hat trick notwithstanding).
Mauer has not performed like a great player for a few years now. But even when he was great — peak Mauer was a three-time batting champ and an MVP, a more accomplished player than Parise — he did not exhibit the fire, exuberance and all-out will to win (at least not outwardly) that Minnesota fans crave.
As such, in terms of the public perception of the two, there is a massive divergence. Mauer has always had a host of vocal critics who wanted him to hit more home runs and show more grit. They grew louder once he signed his big contract. They grew more numerous when his numbers dipped into mediocrity. Parise is nearly universally lauded by fans, save for the handful of hysterics who are never satisfied and treat every goal-less game or bad pass like it’s the end of the world. It helps that he is still on top of his game, but it is only a fraction of the story.
(You can find prime examples of this, by the way, in the comments sections of two of the top-read Star Tribune stories today: Jim Souhan’s column on Mauer and Michael Russo’s game story on the Wild comeback. Admittedly these are two very different types of stories and situations for the players, but it’s still apt).
I’m not saying any of this is right or wrong (except for the awful trolls. They’re wrong). Being a sports fan is often an irrational, emotional thing. As I’m fond of saying, the heart wants what it wants. If you see something in the way Parise plays and emotes that resonates with you while not finding the same connection with Mauer, it’s what your heart wants.
I just find it all very fascinating that two athletes who seem to be as similar as possible inspire such different emotions from their same home state fans.