Sometime this week, most likely Tuesday night, Joe Mauer will smack a single to the opposite field, or line a double into the gap, or watch ball four go by, and he’ll become a baserunner for the 3,073rd time in his career. On the giant scoreboard in left field, the Twins will congratulate him for passing Harmon Killebrew’s record for reaching base safely as a Minnesota Twin, and the fans in attendance will stand and cheer. Mauer will wave his cap to the crowd, and the game will resume.
And Joe Mauer Week — perhaps the final one — will be underway.
“That’ll be pretty cool to do it at home. We’ve got seven games left, I hope I can do it at home,” Mauer joked after tying Killebrew with two singles Sunday. “The fans have given me some really nice moments this year.”
Figure on several more this week, as fans take advantage of a just-in-case opportunity to see a homegrown three-time batting champion once more. Mauer revealed earlier this month that he hasn’t decided about whether to play again in 2019, saying he wanted to make such a momentous decision outside the everyday stress of a 162-game season.
“We’re still in the grind. My body isn’t feeling too great; that’s always the case every year,” Mauer said. “That’s why I want to wait, take a deep breath, and take a step back to consider everything when it’s all over.”
His status could add an air of Auld Lang Syne to an otherwise intrigue-free homestand, though. The Twins’ marketing department, in an awkward position because Mauer may still play in 2019, isn’t promoting the three games with the Tigers and four with the White Sox as a curtain call, but that doesn’t mean fans won’t react that way.
“There’s no Joe Mauer Day planned. There’s no pregame ceremony or anything,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said. “But the best tributes happen organically anyway. I expect there will be a fair amount of emotion in the ballpark. Fans can express their own feelings toward Joe, what he’s meant to the Twins and Minnesota. That’s only natural.”
That’s the way Mauer likes it, anyway.
“I’ve had a couple of really nice moments this year,” he said, citing standing ovations from fans after a couple of big home runs. “When you get a little later in your career, you tend to stop and savor those moments a little bit.”
Fans may have to settle for an understudy once or twice, though. Manager Paul Molitor will meet with Mauer on Tuesday to work out a schedule for his playing time this week, a topic that Molitor brought up with him during the team’s 10-day road trip, too. Mauer has started 82 games at first base this year, and 28 as designated hitter. He’s sat out 10 games when healthy, and missed 25 in May and June because of a sore neck and concussion symptoms.
“He wants to be in there for these games [coming up], which is great, but we haven’t finalized how many he’ll play,” Molitor said. “Or, which game in this particular campaign will be his last start of the year.”
Mauer’s former teammate, Jim Thome, took the field in his final home game as an Indian at third base for one ninth-inning pitch, in order to leave to a standing ovation. Might the three-time Gold Glove catcher pull on the chest protector again, for old time’s sake?
“Don’t tempt me with that,” Mauer said with a laugh. “I wish I could, but probably not.”
Oh well, the at-bats figure to be memorable enough. And it’s not just Twins fans who might want a final photo for their scrapbook this week. Mauer said he’s expecting several members of his extended family to be in town — he has a suite for them all, provided in his expiring contract — though that’s practically a September tradition anyway, he said.
“It’s funny, toward the end of every year, everybody always wants to come and watch. It might feel a little different this year, with next year kind of up in the air, but I guess we’ll find out,” he said. “It’s still baseball. I’m still going to have some fun and try to win some games.”
And then? Mauer insists his future remains a mystery. He’ll be a free agent, a father for the third time near Thanksgiving, and a 35-year-old ballplayer with a tough decision to make.
Some fans believe that Mauer’s admission that retirement is an option is a sign that he’s secretly already chosen it. He laughed at the notion.
“If anybody knows that answer for sure, they should let me know, because I really don’t,” Mauer said. “I haven’t made any decision. I’m not going to for a while. I’m just going to enjoy this last week.”