A few weeks ago, when the Twins were feting Joe Mauer in their final game of the regular season, I was in the process of moving. Though I did soak in the replays, I was not able to bask in the moment live or comment too much on the proceedings. Too busy playing shuffleboard with boxes and hauling furniture.
By this point with Mauer, the battle lines have already been drawn. Whether you love him, hate him, or are somewhere in-between, that’s probably the way it will always remain. As such, instead of trying to defend Mauer’s career to the critics or let some air out of the balloon for his ardent supporters, all I will give here is my take on what Joe Mauer means to me:
One of my favorite TV shows currently airing is Better Call Saul, the somewhat-prequel to Breaking Bad. In one episode this past season, Mike Ehrmantraut (not exactly the emotional type) attends therapy with his daughter-in-law to mourn the loss of his son. In this heartbreaking scene, she confesses the fear of forgetting her late husband as Mike visibly holds back his own emotions (0:35-1:50):
In large part, that is pretty close to how I feel about Joe Mauer’s career potentially having come to a close. If he doesn’t trot out to his position anymore, does that mean memories of the Metrodome Twins will begin to fade as well?
As an adolescent in the late 1960s and early 70s, my father worked at Metropolitan Stadium. If you are of a certain age, he may have brought you your hot dog and soda in the concession line. My dad tells stories about those experiences all the time (a particularly engaging one involves a ketchup/mustard/relish wrapper projectile flung from the upper deck towards unsuspecting innocents below), and while I can appreciate the antics and shenanigans he saw, I can only go so far. Never once did I step foot inside that stadium, so I have to use my imagination (and maybe a few old pictures) to piece together those remembrances in my brain. It’s different for Dad, though, because he lived it.
When it comes to the Twins’ second home, the Metrodome, Mauer really is the last link to baseball being played atop lime-green carpet and below white Teflon. In my mind’s eye, I can clearly see him (even from those seats in the upper deck) jogging behind the plate with all the gear on, or lining a ball into left field with that sweet swing.
Before the big contract, the concussions, or the ridiculous bi-lateral leg weakness debacle, the Dome was Mauer-mania. Our hometown boy, perhaps the personification of “Minnesota Nice”, was becoming the best-hitting catcher of all-time and, oh yeah, had a rifle arm behind the dish too. People were wearing fake sideburns to games, for pete’s sake.
Years from now, when I tell “the next generation” (having been fully indoctrinated into Twins baseball via Target Field) about indoor baseball, will they only be able to relate to my stories as I do my dad’s? Through old pictures and sheer imagination?
How can I ever explain to them that Dome Dogs were the greatest processed meats of all-time...
Or that fans were literally sucked into and blown out of the stadium after each contest...
This is to say nothing of the Hormel Row of Fame, Dodge Ball, the Blimp, Twingo with actual cards & pencils, the milk jugs, Homer Hankies, and all the winning (and losing) baseball or outright championships...
When I tell these stories of yesteryear to rapt audiences of tomorrowland (who am I kidding...they’ll have Snapchat implanted in their irises by this point), they’ll probably smile and nod just to humor me, as I have to do with my father sometime because I just can’t “see it”. That’s sad.
Okay, it’s not really sad. They will grow up attending games at one of the best ballparks in all of baseball, watching games play out underneath blue skies on real grass. It’ll just be sad to me, because all those Dome Sweet Dome games with friends and family members will remain in my brain, unable to be fully uploaded into that of another (unless the near future goes full sci-fi).
So you see, more than the stats or the controversies or the person, that is what Joe Mauer will always mean to me: the last link to Metrodome baseball. Sitting in the stands while one brother relentlessly fills out all star ballots, another never takes his eyes off Doug Mientkiewicz, and an aunt shepherds us through the whole thing.
If Mauer decides to pack away the old “tools of ignorance” for good this time, I wish him the best in the next stage of his life. If he does decide to return, however, I’ll not turn him away, as it will be one more season to say “this guy used to be a star at the Metrodome”.
The older I get (a ripe old 33 years by last count), the more I identify with this section of the great monologue written for James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams:
“The one constant through all the years...has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”
Even though Joe Mauer spent more time basking in sunshine than toiling before climate-controlled fans, he’s still, to me, also that young sideburns kid at the top of his game when the Dome was ending its own. I’ll always have that memory, and I guess that will have to be enough.