On October 1st, 2006, I attended my first ever Twins game. The Twins were playing the White Sox, and they had a chance to clinch the AL Central that day, the final day of the season. All that had to happen was a Twins win and a Tigers loss to the Royals. The Twins win happened first. The Twins defeated the White Sox 5-1, backed by a stellar pitching performance from Carlos Silva and a 2-for-4 day from Joe Mauer. Joe clinched the batting title that day as well, hitting .347 on the season. It is a day I won’t ever forget, not just because the Twins won the division, but also because it was my first time seeing Joe Mauer in person.
Three years later, I watched Joe in awe as he had his best season ever. In 2009, Mauer had arguably the best season by a catcher of all time. He hit .365 with 28 home runs and 96 RBIs and won the batting championship again, along with the AL MVP award. He was already my favorite Twin, and the 2009 season made me appreciate him even more. He was playing for his hometown team and taking them to new heights, and even though the Twins were swept by the Yankees in the ALDS, I will always remember the 2009 season fondly.
Fast forward to the 2017 season, and the American League Wild Card game. The Twins were playing the Yankees again, as has become common when the Twins make the postseason. Joe Mauer came up late in the game as the tying run. He hadn’t been much of a power hitter since the aforementioned 2009 season, but I kept my fingers crossed that he would hit a game tying home run and avenge all of the losses to the Yankees earlier in his career. Joe hit a ball to deep left field. It appeared to go over the wall thanks to the camera angle, however, the ball was actually caught at the wall. I briefly celebrated, since I had thought that Joe Mauer, the face of the franchise for his entire career, had just had a clutch playoff moment. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I was disappointed, but not too disappointed. As good of a story as it would have been if he actually had tied the game, I was glad that Joe was given at least a chance at glory, because he very much deserved it.
At the beginning of this season, Joe collected his 2000th hit. There was a buzz around Twins Territory as he approached the milestone. There was also kind of a sense that this was a very big deal because we didn’t know how much longer he was going to play and how many more milestones he was going to reach. When he got to 2000 hits (on a single up the middle, because that’s what Joe Mauer does), Dick Bremer exclaimed, “And the hometown kid reaches his milestone at home!” Of course he got it at home. He had to get it at home. And it was against the White Sox, a team that had been the Twins’ nemesis for most of Joe’s career. I’ve probably watched the video of hit number 2000 on YouTube many times, because it was so perfectly Joe Mauer, and it couldn’t have happened any other way.
I’m sure all of us can think of a childhood sports hero, someone who we looked up to and saw as larger than life. Joe Mauer is very much mine. He was drafted by the Twins just after I was born and is exiting the league just as I am about to become an adult. I grew up watching Joe Mauer, and maybe it’s fitting that Joe is starting a new chapter in his life at the same time that I am.
Someday, I may have children of my own, and they might love baseball just as much as I do. I will surely tell them about Joe Mauer, just as my parents have told me stories about the athletes that they grew up watching.