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Week 3: Vikings vs. Bills

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2,000 Words on Joe Mauer to Celebrate 2,000 Hits

Joe Mauer has never been much of a compiler. Despite his .309 career average and three batting titles, it has taken him 15 MLB seasons to amass 2,000 hits, in large part because of his agnostic view on reaching first base. A hit is the same as a walk, so he has been more than content to settle for the latter.

Joe is a man after my own heart. As a writer, I've never understood the fascination some scribes have with compiling massive word counts. From my view, the more concisely you can make a point, the better. Efficiency is king.

But with Mauer reaching his big milestone on Thursday night, it only felt right to shed this perspective and focus on that big round number, formerly a mainstay of doomsday proclamists.

And so, I'm going to spend exactly 2,000 words in this post musing and reflecting on one of the greatest Twins to ever don the jersey. I don't think I'll have a hard time getting there.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today
THE NATURAL
In a number of ways. I've always felt a personal connection to Joe Mauer.

Maybe it's because we both grew up in the Twin Cities, and are only about two years apart in age.

Maybe it's because our subsequent paths have been so closely intertwined. When I was on the freshman baseball team at Washburn High in South Minneapolis, our varsity team faced off against Mauer's Cretin-Derham Hall at the Metrodome; he hit for the cycle with an extra triple. His one-strikeout prep career, which turned him into a top draft pick, was the stuff of legend for any of his contemporaries.

Maybe it's because we're both dorky white boys with closet aspirations of being rap stars.

It's probably a combination of all these, but more than anything, it's simply an appreciation for watching Mauer play the game. As someone who coaches young kids in the summer months, I have an acute appreciation for the fundamentals and instincts on display every time Mauer takes the field.

He was hailed as one of the best defensive catchers in the game during his heyday behind the plate, and it's utterly unsurprising that he has quickly developed into one of the league's finest at first. His aptitude for the sport is unbelievable. Purely in terms of fundamentals, he plays baseball as soundly as anyone as I have ever seen. I still find myself marveling about stuff like this all the time:



Of course, he never did fully evolve into the mythical force that flashed in 2009, and for that, his will always be a story of unfulfilled promise in the eyes of some. But plenty of us will happily appreciate Mauer as a unique figure in franchise history, whose No. 7 may never be worn again.

THE HATERS
Haters gonna hate. That's always been my basic stance regarding the confounding level of negative sentiment toward Mauer from Twins fans. It's easy enough to tune out. I've kind of gotten used to doing so from experience, actually.

Here's the thing: My dad? He's one of those naysayers. In fact, he is a model example. Pretty much any time Mauer's name is brought up around him, there'll be a reference to the salary. The ill-advised contract. The blasé "oh hey neato" attitude.

Dad's not being mean-spirited, really. There is just a certain level of grumbling, griping and grousing that is inherent to the sports experience for many – almost therapeutic in a way – and Mauer is a fairly easy target.

I get that. I'll never understand why folks find it so easy to overlook his considerable positives, but alas. I can see why the big salary, the absence of fiery competitiveness, and the lack of prototypical slugging prowess make him a lightning rod.

There's no point in trying to sway anyone at this point. If you're reading this, you're either nodding your head and basking in Mauer's generational greatness or rolling your eyes, and that's fine.

But if you're sour on the guy, I would urge you to try and enjoy the present. At this point his salary is completely immaterial. Even if it wasn't, right now Mauer's earning the checks by playing some pretty incredible ball. His plate approach is as good as any in the league, and he's driving pitches as fiercely and consistently as he has in many years. You really could not ask for a better No. 2 hitter, wedged between the elite power bats of Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano.

The only people who should be cursing Mauer right now are opposing pitchers trying to navigate this minefield of a lineup.

MINNESOTA MADE
The other thing that I really love about Mauer is how unbelievably, ridiculously, outrageously Minnesotan he is. Maybe that's why so many locals feel an innate animosity toward him – they look at Mauer and see so much of themselves. His distinct accent, his (almost creepily) friendly demeanor, his understated personality.

I mean, look at him:


Attached Image: mauerandmom.JPG


It's no secret I'm a sucker for the story of Glen Perkins: Minnesota high school phenom turned college star turned first-round pick turned All Star big-leaguer. An entire career spent in his own backyard.

Well, Mauer takes the hometown hero narrative to new extremes, rarely seen in the history of sport. Born and raised in Minnesota's capital city, he became a prep legend, then a No. 1 draft pick by the team he grew up watching. And during a 15-year career, all spent with that same team, he has won an MVP and made six All Star teams. He'll be a borderline Hall of Fame case when he hangs 'em up.

Through it all, he's still the same soft-spoken, easygoing dude with an almost nonexistent ego.

Alright, how we doing. Not even at 1,000 words yet? Hoo boy. Alright, well as I try to hammer out a word for every hit in Mauer's career, let's look back and try to pluck out the five biggest and most memorable from that pool of two thousand. (Obviously this is very subjective, and I'd love to hear your own submissions in the comments.)

5 BIGGEST HITS OF JOE MAUER'S CAREER

Notches His First Career Hit: April 5, 2004
Mauer was in the Opening Day lineup on April 5th, 2004, facing Cleveland at the Metrodome. Still only 20 years old at the time, he drew a walk against CC Sabathia in his first career plate appearance. Mauer then struck out, walked again, and led off the ninth with his first MLB hit — fittingly, a ground ball single to center. He'd add a second in extra innings.

Seals Up His First Batting Title: October 1, 2006
Entering play on the final day of the '06 season, Mauer had the slimmest of leads over New York's Derek Jeter in average – .346 to .345 – and so the American League batting title was very much on the line. Mauer later admitted he had "never been so nervous in (his) life," and struck out swinging in his first at-bat. But he came back with a big double in his next AB and followed with a single to basically clinch the honor. Oh, and in the meantime, the Twins clinched the AL Central crown, with Mauer's two-hit day helping fuel a critical victory.

Opens His MVP Campaign with a Bang: May 1, 2009
Joe wasn't quite right when he showed up to spring training in '09, and he ended up missing the first month of the regular season due to a lower-back issue. When he made his highly anticipated debut on the first of May, I was in attendance at the Metrodome, with uncharacteristically good seats. Tucked a few rows behind the visiting dugout on the first-base line, I had a perfect view of Mauer's first swing of the season: a home run drilled over the left field wall. It was a booming start to one of the great months in the modern baseball history – he batted .414 with a 1.338 OPS and 11 home runs... as a Gold Glove catcher! Of course, he'd rightfully go on to win the AL MVP, leading the league in AVG/OBP/SLG.

Sparks Twins Rally in 11th Inning of ALDS Game 2: October 9, 2009
Leading off the top of the 11th in an epic seesaw battle in the Bronx, Mauer delivered his second hit of the game – a double, drilled down the left field line off Damaso Marte. Jason Kubel followed with a ground ball single up the middle, scoring Mauer and giving Minnesota the lead. Claiming a huge win on the road, the Twins were able to even the series at one, finally canceling their lengthy hex against the Yankees and heading back home with momentum.

Oh, wait. No.

In actuality, Mauer's obvious double was inexplicably ruled a foul by Phil Cuzzi, who was staring directly at the ball from about 15 feet away when it bounced well inside the line.

Attached Image: mauercuzzi.jpg


Mauer did end up singling in the at-bat, but instead of scoring on Kubel's ensuing base hit he moved up to second, and then to third on a single by Michael Cuddyer. Yanks reliever David Robertson (yep, same David Robertson), went on to retire three straight batters to leave the bases loaded. Mark Teixeira hit a walkoff home run to lead off the bottom of the inning. And the hex lives on to this day.

That moment was in so many ways emblematic of Mauer's entire career, and his legacy with a segment of fans. He did end up coming through and getting on base, but not in the singlehandedly game-changing fashion that dances through our heads still to this day.

So while it wasn't actually a hit, I'm counting it. Dangit Cuzzi.

Tallies Hit No. 2,000 Amid Late-Career Renaissance: April 12, 2018
There have been plenty of other noteworthy knocks in Mauer's fantastic career, many of which surely deserve to be replace the copout selection above. But choosing favorites from a sea of 2,000 is a tall task, which speaks to the caliber of his body of work.

Closing your eyes, you can probably picture a montage of Mauer hits: solidly stroked singles to left, double to the gap or down the line, a ground ball single up the middle – like the one that started it all at the Dome 14 years ago, and the one he struck last night in Target Field for the big milestone.

Slogging through the miserable 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons was tough enough as a Twins fan, but watching Mauer go through his concussion, and come back as a sub-mediocre player, took the agony to new heights. The thought of Minnesota trying to rise back to contention in spite of him, rather than because of him in some way, was tough to stomach.

As such, it has been incredibly gratifying to see Mauer return to his former offensive glory just as the team reemerges. I honestly didn't know if we'd ever see the 34-year-old (35 in one week) perform at this level again, and the way it's come together... well, to borrow his vernacular, it's pretty neat.

Looks like I've still got about 60 words left to burn, so I'll close by imparting you with some wisdom from the man himself, according to BrainyQuotes:

"It frustrates me if I'm not good at something, so I do it until I get good at it."

“I hate striking out, doesn’t matter what time of the game. I just don’t like striking out.”

"I like Lil Wayne."

"I'm not as cool as I'm supposed to be."

"Nobody wants to hear me rap."

I suspect no human has made it this far into the article, least of all Joe Mauer himself. But Joe, if you are somehow reading this, please know this much: You're as cool as you need to be. And I want to hear you rap. Very badly. Very, very, very badly.

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34 Comments

I freely admit that I wrote off Mr. Mauer at the beginning of last year. 

 

I am more than happy to admit I was wrong and am thrilled to see the Joe M. of old return.

 

New position, same slick fielding and now the stick is working again.

 

Not many player manage to reinvent themselves but Mr. Mauer certainly did.

    • Nick Nelson, James, DocBauer and 3 others like this

Storybook stuff.  Nicely written.

 

There, I wrote four words to celebrate the career of Oswaldo Arcia.

    • Nick Nelson and SadMinnySportsFan like this
I think Joe is a HOFer based on his work as a catcher. His position switch is turning out to be one of the best ever. Maybe not a first ballot but definitely a HOFer.
    • James, ThejacKmp, DocBauer and 3 others like this

This is as good as anything Nick has ever written, which says a lot. This was fantastic!

    • Nick Nelson, Steve Lein, James and 3 others like this
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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 12 2018 10:43 PM

*slow clap*

 

Nick, this is one of my favorite pieces you've ever written and a fitting tribute to a fantastic player.

    • Nick Nelson, Steve Lein, James and 6 others like this

Lots of amazing articles written on this wonderful site. This, however, is the best one ever.

    • Brock Beauchamp, Nick Nelson, Seth Stohs and 2 others like this
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walt-o-meal
Apr 13 2018 12:07 AM

I like Joe Mauer.

    • James, ahart10, Tibs and 2 others like this
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AlwaysinModeration
Apr 13 2018 04:11 AM
Great piece. I never wrote Joe off. It’s always been interesting to look at the multiple years between Morneau’s concussion and his batting title in Colorado. It’s fantastic to see Joe playing back to his full abilities. I hope this is a start to a special season for him.

Which of the following things will he accomplish this year?
-2000 hits (check)
-Long hit streak
-All Star Game berth
-Compete in HR Derby
-Gold Glove
-Batting title
-Post-season success
    • Nick Nelson and MN_ExPat like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Apr 13 2018 05:58 AM

did anyone check to see if this was actually a 2000 word piece? :)

 

Well done Nick.

    • Nick Nelson, goulik and HitInAPinch like this
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Tommygun921
Apr 13 2018 06:40 AM
I like Joe Mauer. I don't have an issue with his contract other than maybe he received basically $20 million more than Buster Posey. Who I'd have considered a similar player. (Without going thru the details and statistics) And maybe that he used one huge year to possibly drive up his price. My "issue" (which is extremely tame compared to most) was his inability to stay off the DL or play enough games. The aww shucks attitude never bother me. I'd just rather hear what you actually think....but maybe what he says is what he actually thinks? That being said I've wholeheartedly enjoyed watching Mauers career as I've been a Twins fan my whole life but had a better opportunity to follow them 24/7 starting at the beginning of his career. Mauer will certainly go down as one of the best Twins ever and could've gone down as one of the best catchers ever (definitely was during his time) had he been able to stay behind the plate. I didn't shed a tear but it was a bit emotional for myself watching that last night. Hopefully he can keep playing at a high level and make the decision hard on the front office on how long he continues to play for them. Congrats Joe!

I admit I was one of the nay-sayers for years, mainly after the bilateral leg weakness and concussion. Looking back, I feel awful about my feelings towards Joe. He obviously wasnt 100% for a long time, and last year he showed he can still play incredibly well. 

 

I can admit my mistakes, and I am going to appreciate watching one of the greatest players in franchise history play the game. I was at the game in 2006 when he clinched the batting title and the game last night. It was pretty cool to see those moments in person and be able to appreciate his skills.

 

Now, like Nick, I played against Joe in HS, and my team didnt make state until he graduated, so no matter what there will always be a little grudge held. 

 

 

PS Thanks for the great article Nick

    • Nick Nelson, Seth Stohs, James and 5 others like this

Well said Nick. Excellent write up, and I think that we all appreciate just how lucky we are that we have been able to witness one of the greatest players of our generation play in our own back yard for all these years.

 

So let's raise up our voices and shout out a hearty HUZZAH for Joe! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah I say!!!

    • Nick Nelson and James like this
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Matthew Lenz
Apr 13 2018 07:03 AM

Fun read!Thanks, Nick.

 

Damn Phil Cuzzi.Why is that not like Twins Daily tagline or a twitter account or something??Even better maybe the name of someones blog!

    • Nick Nelson likes this
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Original Whizzinator
Apr 13 2018 07:07 AM
I tried checking and came up with 1995, but I don't think it's right. I guess I'm kind of geeky but in a more analog way. Went from mobile word to an email to my pc laptop and standard word...i freaking give up
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Tommygun921
Apr 13 2018 07:13 AM
Great write up Nick! I especially like the closing comments. In particular "You're as cool as you need to be." Maybe I read more into it than was meant. Perfect for Joe and something I'll keep in mind down the road when my girls get older. Don't change who you are just because you don't fit what other people think you should be. As long as there nothing wrong with who you are.
    • Nick Nelson likes this
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youngtwinsfan
Apr 13 2018 07:19 AM

Loved the article! I think one of my favorites was his first career walkoff homerun which he celebrated in typical Joe attitude by not getting nearly as excited as most do lol.

    • Nick Nelson likes this
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Andrew Thares
Apr 13 2018 07:35 AM

This was a great read! Thanks Nick!

    • Nick Nelson likes this

 

did anyone check to see if this was actually a 2000 word piece? :)

 

Well done Nick.

I Lost count somewhere around ......5

 

Some would blame lack of dedication to the cause

    • James and DocBauer like this

Phil ****ing Cuzzi! 

 

It needed to be included, but if you absolutely had to pick an official hit for that last spot I'd nominate this one: http://www.startribu...ages/160189965/

 

Edit: link isn't working for me for some reason but just search "Mauer vs. Chapman was one for the ages"

 

This one's burned in my memory as emblematic of what Joe was capable of, and hopefully is capable of again.

 

Sadly, it was only shortly before his last big concussion robbed him of this ability for a few years.

 

Excellent article. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Thank you Nick. Didn't realize you were a Mighty Miller.

Joe looks great this year. He has kept his body in good shape and he still runs well and has the same great solid approach at the plate. I think he could still be a very productive player for a lot longer.

I wish the Twins would have utilized his arm and athleticism more by transitioning him to 3B or LF instead of first, but he surely is a great first basemen.

I'm going to try to enjoy watching him as much as possible this season in case it's his last in a Twins uniform.

    • Nick Nelson and Wyorev like this
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LimestoneBaggy
Apr 13 2018 10:25 AM

 

did anyone check to see if this was actually a 2000 word piece? :)

 

Well done Nick.

 

did anyone check to see if this was actually a 2000 word piece? :)

 

Well done Nick.

I've got him clocked at 1991, but I'll admit a margin of error.....anyways, who's counting. Great article!

Couple years ago a lot people talked about Mauer and said "If he could just be...".We all knew he wasn't a power hitter.Now, with his gold glove caliber defense, he has become just as valuable as guys who hit 30 HR but are not great on defense.I'd say the the last year-plus, he has certainly become that "If he could just be..." player.Hit .300.Get on base.Get clutch hits.The defense.Show young players what a professional at bat looks like (I'm talking to you Miguel).Show young players how to carry themselves as a pro.Provide a great role model for young kids in our state. Thank you Joe.

    • MN_ExPat likes this

OH.And anyone who considers themselves a true Twins fan, which obviously everyone on this site is, HAS to appreciate a guy who ranks in Twins history with names like Killebrew (times on base) and Carew/Puckett (hits).

    • James and nokomismod like this

 

I Lost count somewhere around ......5

 

Some would blame lack of dedication to the cause

 

I thinkyou are just being respectful of the Twins Daily site where math is generally frowned upon, and counting is veers dangerously towards math (although the no-math rule might be more of a game threads policy).

    • James and MN_ExPat like this
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ashburyjohn
Apr 13 2018 12:06 PM

I thinkyou are just being respectful of the Twins Daily site where math is generally frowned upon, and counting is veers dangerously towards math (although the no-math rule might be more of a game threads policy).

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