Twins fans watched Joe Mauer walk out in his catcher’s gear with a combination of sadness, pride and a hope that maybe this really wasn’t farewell.
In the top of the ninth inning Sunday at Target Field, Mauer crouched behind the plate, catching a single pitch before running to the mound and hugging pitcher Matt Belisle. That action earned Mauer, who wiped away tears, a five-minute standing ovation from fans.
“That was absolutely fantastic,” said Tom O’Connell, who said he had watched Mauer play since Little League and attended what is now Cretin-Derham Hall as Mauer did. His brother Dick O’Connell said the pair wanted Mauer to come back for another year.
The Twins won Sunday’s season-ending game against the White Sox 5-4, but Mauer stole the show. During the game, highlights from his 15-year, 1,858-game career played on the giant TV screens. His pint-size twin daughters joined him at first base for the national anthem.
Mauer shook hands with the plate umpire Jim Reynolds before his first at bat, and he received a standing ovation each time he stepped up to the plate.
Joan Gilbertson said she texted her son, a college student who also attended Cretin-Derham Hall, throughout the game, sending him photos and updates.
For her son, Mauer is “an idol,” and he felt the night’s significance from hundreds of miles away. “It was emotional. There was definitely a sense that this could be the end,” Gilbertson said.
Several fans mentioned Mauer’s local roots and humility when asked about their attachment to him.
Pam Novak and her family drove in from South Dakota to watch the game. Mauer seems “down-to-earth,” she said: “He doesn’t have a big head because he’s a celebrity.”
At a bar near the Twins stadium after the game, Jon Higgins joked that Mauer would be back next year.
In actuality, though, “Everything pointed to the fact that he’s done,” Higgins said. “Everyone could sense it. … It was a good send-off for him.”
Higgins and friend Andrew Smith wore matching No. 7 jerseys — Mauer’s uniform number — to the game.
“He’s definitely been one of my favorite players,” Higgins said. “Figured it might be the last time I could wear it.”