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Q&A with Jake Mauer (Part I)

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As you know, I was able to spend four days in Cedar Rapids last week. I arrived in time for their Meet the Kernels event at Perfect Game Field. At a press conference, hitting coach Tommy Watkins introduced me to manager Jake Mauer. Over the next few days, I had a chance to talk to Watkins, pitching coach Gary Lucas and Mauer quite a bit. Below, you can read Part 1 of a two-part Q&A with the Kernels manager.

Before we start, here is a little background. Jake Mauer is the older brother of Twins catcher Joe Mauer. The younger sibling was the first overall pick out of Cretin-Derham Hall in 2011. The elder Mauer was the Twins 23rd round selection the same year after helping the University of St. Thomas to a national championship. He spent the remainder of that 2001 season in Elizabethton. He spent the 2002 season in Quad Cities of the Midwest League. In 2003, he played the full season in Ft. Myers. In 2004, he moved up to AA New Britain. He was hurt much of the 2005 season. In 2006, he moved into the coaching world. He managed the Twins Gulf Coast League team starting in 2008 for two years. In 2010, the then-31 year old became the manager of the Ft. Myers Miracle where he has spent the past three season. In 2013, Mauer is being entrusted to lead some of the most talented prospects in the Twins farm system.

On Saturday, Mauer was gracious enough to spend a half-hour with me after batting practice talking about several topics. Today, Iím posting the first half of that discussion, and tomorrow, I will post Part 2, so be sure to check back. Again, this interview took place on Saturday morning. The Kernels had won their home opener 9-7, and then won on Friday night in walk-off fashion. In other words, this was before the loss on Saturday afternoon, the combined no-hitter on Sunday, another win on Monday and the rain/snow-outs the last couple of days.

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What is the hardest part of managing at a different place and different level?

Jake Mauer (JM): A new city. Getting to know the city, a place to live, get comfortable. Meeting a new front office, obviously, but everybody here has been outstanding. Facility is great. Town is fantastic. The front office has been even better.
Different level? These guys arenít quite as experienced. Granted, maybe itís a year, but that can make a difference. These guys have to learn to prepare and to play every day. For most, itís their first full season, and youíre dealing with inclement weather at times. Thereís some adjustments in this league. This is a great league, I think, for a first full season for these guys because the towns are a little bigger, they play in front of some more people. These guys are still kids. You kind of have to keep an eye on all of it.

I donít remember being 21.

JM: Thatís just it. Most of these guys are only 20, 21 years old, sophomore, junior in college. We have some 19 year olds that would be freshmen. Itís a life, not only on the field, but off the field. Theyíve got to eat right. Make sure theyíre washing their laundry. Figuring out how to get to a ballpark and all that stuff.

Do you get advice from anybody as a manager?

JM: Oh yeah, you talk to everybody. From Gene Glynn to Ramon Borrego, weíre all in it together obviously. And, having Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor as a resource is pretty good. Having them around every day in spring training was outstanding. Youíve got everybody, Lep (minor league coordinator Joel Lepel). Everybody will help. Weíre not afraid. Thereís no, ďweíre on our own islandĒ here. Thereís none of that, all the way through, from Gene to Ramon.

Do you have a good Tom Kelly story?

JM: Iíve actually known Tom. I actually played ball with his son at St. Thomas, so Iíve known him even before we were in pro ball. Really, when I was a player, it was starting to get into his last year as a manager on the big league side. Actually, Iíve been around him more as a coach and manager. I just like to ask him questions. Coaching third base, places to go. Obviously he was a third base coach before he was a manager. Some thoughts that he has. Managing bullpens. You bounce certain things off of him that come up. Ask him what he thinks and his opinion. Obviously thatís a pretty nice resource to have.

Are there things that Joe asks you, or are there things you will call Joe about to help you as a manager?

JM: Itíll be more catching stuff that Iíll ask him. Things that he likes to do. I see something on TV, for instance, they change their signs with a runner on second, just their thought process and then try to get that through with everybody else, to tell them what theyíre doing up there. We talk a lot about baseball obviously, no doubt about it. But itís in general terms. How heís feeling. He asks how a lot of these guys are doing. When he comes down to spring training, he knows a lot of those guys in there. He recognizes names. Buxton made an impression on him when he went up there for a big league game, and some of these younger guys that heís been around.

2 hits, 2 stolen bases, not a bad impression.

Yeah, and played a real good centerfield. Kenny Vargas is another one he asks about, that heís seen in a big league game.

A lot of our guys that have come up through the system that are in the big leagues are pretty familiar with a lot of these kids at every other level. They see them throughout, and you hear names and stuff like that, so there is an interest.

Do you get Head and Shoulders free?

JM: We used to. Yeah, we used to. (Lots of laughter)

Joe was the #1 overall pick. Buxton was a #2 pick. Any thoughts yet on if there are any similarities?

JM: You know, Seth, their personalities are pretty similar. Theyíre quieter guys. I donít think they let a lot of people in right away. I think thatís maybe a good thing with all the attention. I think the biggest thing, too, is they just go out and play. I donít think they necessarily believe what everybody writes and whatís said. You still have to go out and play the game. Thatís the most important thing. I would say there are a lot of similarities, personality-wise, between the two. They both have high expectations, but that comes with the territory, but I think both of them, the way that they think, and mentally, how tough they are, I think they both handle it pretty good.

On your staff, what are the coaching responsibilities?

JM: Tommy and I will share most of the hitters. Tommy pretty much takes the outfielders, and I take the infielders. Youíve seen, Tommy keeps a spray chart, which is good, so we can position guys. Tommy has free reign to move guys as well, if he sees someone in the outfield that isnít moving, heíll holler and get it straight. More of the pre-game stuff, Iíll usually go out and take care of the defensive stuff, and Tommy will do the offensive stuff in the cages. Thatís just kind of how itís been. Got to be in two places at one time, so we get a lot of stuff done, which thatís nice. Luke (Gary Lucas)? Really, the pitchers are Lukeís. Heís there in the trenches with them every day. He knows a lot about how they tick so I rely on him quite a bit. Ultimately, it comes down to being my decision on who goes out there and who does what. I bounce a lot of things off of them, and they bounce a lot of things off of me.
Weíre pretty comfortable. He was the pitching coach when I was in Quad Cities, so Iíve known Luke for ten years, and Iíve known Tommy for even longer. I think it starts with the staff, as far as team chemistry. If the staff isnít getting along, I think the players can feel it. We like to have fun. Weíre pretty laid back, and I think that helps. Lead by example, and when itís time to play, itís time to play. Here we go.

Observationally, I see a generally positive and optimistic and fun atmosphere with your team, but when the game approaches, there is a different mentality. How do you help young kids turn that off and on?

JM: Absolutely. Some of these guys, itíll be the first time they experience failure. In high school and college, they were always the man, head and shoulders above everybody else. Now when they get thrown into this, itísÖ you know, you say Ďbig fish in a small pond,í now youíre in the ocean. There are players from all over the world that theyíre competing against. So it can be overwhelming at times.

You try to stay positive. You let them know that weíve gone through what theyíre going through. Theyíre not different. Everybodyís gone through it. Letís work through it. Letís stay positive. Bad things are going to happen. Itís part of the game, but how do we come out the next day? How do we make the next pitch? How do we take the next at bat? Thatís what a professional mentality theyíve got to start to understand. Weíve got 138 more (games) left. Weíve got a lot of games left. Theyíre not always going to be as exciting as the last two nights, obviously.
When failure does happen, like when (Steven) Gruver had a walk, a run scored, he was kind of beating himself up about it. So, letís look at the positives. Thatís not to say forget about the walk, but he threw three excellent innings, dominated them. Letís learn from the walk, but letís not harp on it.

The language barrier has to be an issue, especially with young players.

The most important thing is that you try to make them feel like theyíre part of the team. Theyíre more comfortable with other Latin players just because they speak the same language and a lot of them come from the same background. In our group of guys, like a JD Williams, (Drew) Leachman, (Travis) Harrison, they make really good efforts to include everybody and I think thatís important.

Some of these guys arenít old enough to play winter ball. Itís a different thing. You go down there and get to experience that. Well, thatís what those guys are experiencing here. Itís not only in baseball that theyíre competing, but the culture. Itís different. Being able to find that and get adjusted up here. Itís obviously cooler. In the Midwest, thereís not a lot of Spanish-speaking folks up here, compared to in a Ft. Myers or something like that.

Itís getting that, but they also need to make an effort to learn English. And our guys do. I saw the video. Outstanding. And then to be comfortable. When they talk, they donít want to sound like they donít know what theyíre talking about, if that makes sense.

A confidence.

JM: Itís a confidence with using it, and thatís the biggest thing. We had (Candido) Pimentel and (Jorge) Polanco, and Polanco speaks pretty good English. Heís a quiet guy. Really smart kid. Really smart. Pimentelís not as comfortable. So weíre trying to explain and go over objectives. ďSo, Pimentel, what are your goals and objectives?Ē Polanco asks him. He starts to say them in Spanish. I said, ďNo, you tell me in English.Ē

Well, youíve got to try. You know, youíve got to try. Weíre not going to laugh at you. Try, see what happens. We can help if you need. Just try.

The Twins value family and character a lot, and it is shown by the players, the coaches, and their families.

JM: It comes into play in a game like last night. That bullpen guy (Dakota Bacus) struck nine of us out in five innings. Three innings of not even putting a ball in play. We could have hung our heads. Walk. Stole second. Hit him in the back. Rolls out. Now they score a run on a dribbler. We could have folded up shop. But I think thatís that chemistry stuff. Theyíre all pulling for each other. No one put their head down and give them this one. Thatís the mentality here. I think that starts with team chemistry.
Obviously, you want to Develop #1, but you can develop and win. Thatís preparing guys to get to Minnesota. You want guys to get to Minnesota who have experienced winning. That just helps. Thereís no panic out there in the last inning. You know, Pimentel stands out in the cold for eight innings and scores on a double from first.


JM: Yeah. Without a doubt. So, itís stuff like that. Itís being prepared. Have an understanding that just because your name isnít in the starting lineup. Adam Walker may have to come in and pinch hit here in the ninth inning, so he has to be ready.

Are you a prospect? Are you looking to move up the organizational ladder?

JM: I would like to get to the big leagues, Seth, any way possible. Some guys that got to the big leaguesÖ Jim Dwyer is the hitting coach in Ft. Myers and played for 18 years in the big leagues. Heís not looking to get back to the big leagues. He likes the road trips. He just loves being around baseball. Thereís other guys, like Tommy Watkins. who is probably in the same boat as me and would like to get to the big leagues again at some point, whatever capacity it is. There are only 30 managerial jobs, and a lot of guys are recycled. So, to get the opportunity to manage that would be outstanding, but hitting coach, it doesnít matter.

You try to think. You do the right things and get prepared enough to where, if there is an opportunity that comes along, that youíre ready to hopefully seize it.
SS: Best part of managing at these levels.

JM: The teaching aspect. The day to day. Getting into the trenches with the boys, and thatís kind of a clichť, but the day-to-day stuff that nobody sees. Youíre out there four hours before the game hitting ground balls and working on footwork and making throws and trying to develop not only physical tools, but mental tools, and how they apply. Thatís what gets exciting, when you see a guy start to get up into those higher levels. Aaron Hicks. (Ben) Revere, we had. Guys like that start to surface, and you see them doing things that you worked on and they needed to improve upon that theyíre starting to do. When you see that light bulb go on, thatís probably the most rewarding thing.


Thatís it for today, a lot of information to take in. Tomorrow, Iíll be back with the rest of the interview, so be sure to check that. Iíll ask Jake Mauer about what he saw in Aaron Hicks. Iíll talk to him about bunting, left-handed pitching, winning versus development, promotions and much more.

Thanks again to all those with the Kernels who were so great. I canít encourage people to make a trip to Cedar Rapids enough to watch this team play. I made the trek last week. Iím hoping to get there at least one more time this summer. Iíll be joining the Territory Train in late June to spend a couple of fun-filled days watching Kernel baseball. If youíre interested in joining that trip, click here.
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