ST. PAUL — Set yourself out in left field, just beyond the fence at the field where Cretin-Derham Hall plays its baseball games. At your back is the famed burger joint, The Nook, and in front of you, it’d be fairly easy to see why a young left-handed hitter would want to learn to hit it out in your direction. Short, reachable fence.
That was the scene 20 years ago. Joe Mauer was on his way to becoming one of the best high school athletes in the country, learning to take the first pitch and punish anything he could to the opposite field.
Now set yourself out in left field in the summer of 2019 at Target Field. At your back is the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis, and in front of you, a ceremony to unveil Joe Mauer’s newly retired No. 7, which is displayed in the Minnesota limestone in left field.
This column presents 7 notes on the news that Mauer will become the 9th person in Twins history to have his number retired.
1. This was a slam-dunk decision for the Twins.
The only drama was how and when they would choose to announce it. We tracked all summer long as Mauer pursued and eventually surpassed Harmon Killebrew as the team’s all-time leader at getting on base. (Killebrew’s record was 3,072 times on base, and Mauer set the new high water mark 3,087; in today’s era of player movement, it’s hard to envision what it would take to topple Mauer’s new record.)
As Mauer became accustomed to saying over the past couple years, anytime your name is mentioned with the Rod Carews and Tony Olivas and Harmon Killebrews of the world, you must be doing something right.
2. Mauer apparently was surprised on stage by the news.
Kent Hrbek, one of the idols of Mauer’s youth, is the one that got to tell him the good news.
“Joe, they’re retiring your number, buddy! Congrats,” Hrbek said.
A couple of assists go to Maddie Mauer (Joe’s wife) and Mauer’s good friend, Tony Leeson. Maddie helped to orchestrate that memorable final day in a Twins uniform. So it’s no big surprised to hear she was again involved on this day. Of Tuesday’s press conference, Leeson, one of Mauer’s best friends, told him: “It’ll just be like a Twins caravan event, a couple questions here and there and shake some hands, it’ll be fine.”
So, that was his expecation for the event, complete with a fieldhouse full of high school students, a student pep band, and few a questions from kids in the audience.
“But to see everybody come out here from this community and my Twins family coming out – I’m still kind of in shock,” Mauer said. “It’s not everyday you get to have your favorite player growing up tell you that you’re going up on the wall with him, with the retired numbers. … I’m still kind of in shock right now.”
3. So what’s Joe Mauer up to these days?
About a month after retiring from Major League Baseball, he’s focussed on being a full-time dad. He also said he’s going to be able to do more charitable work than he has in the past. But so far his twin daughters and newborn son have gotten his attention. Charles “Chip” Mauer was born a couple days after his dad’s retirement press conference took place at Target Field.
He also said he’s been invited to a couple of pickup basketball games. He said he’ll play some hockey this winter, too. When he played varsity sports in high school, it was football, basketball and baseball.
“I hadn’t played in a pickup basketball game in 18 years,” Mauer said. “It wasn’t pretty. … I definitely didn’t go in the paint, I’ll tell you that. I did a lot of facilitating and throwing up a shot every once in a while.”
He was asked if he’d ever get in to coaching or anything like that, and he said that right now he was just trying to catch his breath and spend time with his family. He’ll recharge the batteries and figure out what’s next later.
4. The Twins are open to having Mauer serve some role in the organization.
It sounds like nothing has been finalized as yet, but at 35, it sure doesn’t sound like Mauer is ready to move on from baseball in full. What will that role look like?
I keep hearing that the Twins are open to the discussion when the day comes. Joe said that he’s going to catch his breath before making a decision.
I’m trying to figure out exactly what that would look like. If it’s a year-round commitment he’s looking to make, then an advisor in the front office would make some sense. Can you even picture Mauer on a coaching staff at some point, though? Not that he wouldn’t have any wisdom to offer up to the next generation, it’s just that those jobs can be grueling in terms of schedule and travel and the like. That’s just hard for me to envision for a guy who cited family as a big reason to retire, and one who most recently updated his resume to read “full-time dad.” That just doesn’t leave too much time for a more-than-full-time job.
At a minimum, I think Mauer will work as an official Twins ambassador at some point, although I’d only be guessing beyond that.
5. Joe Mauer Fieldhouse wasn’t even there when Mauer was a student at CDH.
The location of Tuesday’s announcement was built long after Mauer was drafted and signed by the Twins. It was dedicated in October 2015.
“I signed my [first pro] contract in the old gym up there, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, but it is 18 years,” Mauer said Tuesday. “That’s one of the things I wanted to say to these students: Things happen pretty fast and you want to enjoy the time that you have and the opportunities that are in front of you, you want to try to take advantage of them when you can.”
There’s a plaque at the fieldhouse with a sketch of Joe and Maddie Mauer, a dedication for the building that now carries the family’s name.
Mauer joked with a small group that if they stood in the same place 18 years ago they’d be standing outdoors. He said that the place he was standing inside the gymnasium was probably right about where right field was situated in the previous arrangement — “So I probably hit a few balls out here.”
Right field, you say?
So, maybe he didn’t hit too many balls out that way.
6. What more is there to say?
I’ve hand-picked some of the best Joe Mauer-themed Twins shows over the past couple of months. We’ve spent a lot of time around here talking about his underappreciated greatness during his career, his peers among best-ever Twins, and his chances of one day finding his way into Cooperstown.
The other numbers retired at Target Field: Harmon Killebrew (3), Tony Oliva (6), Tom Kelly (10), Kent Hrbek (14), Bert Blyleven (28), Rod Carew (29), Kirby Puckett (34) and Jackie Robinson (42).
7. Will he be in the Hall of Fame?
Food for thought
We’re not saying anything definitive with this one. Just sharing some food for thought. While we’re on the topic of the stats here, how about this for a coincidence: Mauer finished his career with 1,858 games played, all for his hometown Twins. Coincidentally, Minnesota was admitted as a state in the year 1858. Pretty special, right?