A lot has already been written about Joe Mauer after his emotional final-game farewell at the end of this past season. Heck, I myself was even chiming in, describing how Mauer was my last tangible link to Metrodome baseball. After his recent announcement, letter, and press conference put the final amen to his career, however, I found myself again thinking of the memories I had watching Mauer do his thing.
By the time Joe Mauer debuted at the major league level in 2004, I was already a well-established Twins fan. As such, like many others here and otherwise, I had the good fortune of watching his career from beginning to end. It’s a little astonishing for me to think that just two months after his debut, I was graduating high school. Talk about “baseball marking the times” (nods to James Earl Jones). Here are what I consider to be my top five memories from those 15 seasons...
-How the ball absolutely jumped off his bat those early seasons. I had never seen a hitter, at such a young age, consistently barrel up the baseball quite like he could. Whether ground ball, line drive, or fly ball, I distinctly remember how hard he seemed to hit the horsehide sphere with such a seemingly effortless swing.
-The good-natured (or sometimes not) arguments between myself and my brother over who was better: Mauer or Morneau. He was a die-hard Mornie guy (“those home runs and RBI!”), I was Camp Mauer (“that batting average and on-base percentage!”), and we’d go round-and-round. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how good that pairing was from 2006-2009. Essentially, we were both the winners of the argument!
-His concussion experience teaching me how severe (yet silent, in terms of outright observability) those injuries can be to a player. With that one ball fouled off his catcher’s mask, he went from a perennial .320+ hitter to a .260 one in an instant. I’m not proud of this, but I soured a bit on Mauer during the 2014-2016 seasons. Not realizing that concussion symptoms were still bothering him (and he was never one to talk about such things in the public forum), I questioned his work ethic and drive for the game. Big mistake, of course, as the 2017 season really re-invigorated my respect for him, having then finally realized the extent of the symptoms he had been suffering from.
-Giving Joe a standing ovation (along with the rest of the Target Field crowd, paltry as it may have been on a chilly early-season Thursday night) after watching him record hit number 2000. That was just the start of Mauer’s assault on the all-time Twins record books, as seemingly every week he’d pass another legendary player from this franchise’s past.
-There was only one time in his career that Joe Mauer ended a game with a home run...and I was there for it! I’ll never forget the circumstances leading up to this moment, as I was at the game with my sister and actively discouraged her from picking Joe in the Pick 3 app game. Yikes. Like I said, this was roughly the time when I was in my “what happened to Mauer?!” phase. The above blast (two outs, two strikes), as well as the entirety of the exciting ‘17 campaign, changed all of that and really ushered in my “Mauer Renaissance”.
It’ll be strange to not see Joe in the lineup come Opening Day ‘19, and the absence of T.I. at the ballpark will be conspicuous. But as long as he’s happy and healthy in the near future when the ceremony commences unveiling #7 along with 3, 6, 14, 29, 34, 28, 10, & 42, I’ll have a smile on my face and cheer in my heart for him.