Mauer remains face of Twins' franchise
Still the fan favorite, even as comeback remains slow
FORT MYERS, Fla -- After taking his turn in the batting cage on Thursday, Twins catcher Joe Mauer walked toward the Twins' dugout to put away his bat and fetch his glove.
But before he got there, Mauer stopped to chat with fans who had been allowed to gather on the edge of the field with VIP tickets during batting practice.
He patted a toddler in a tiny Twins uniform on the head. He said hello to two fans in the box seats. He signed autographs for three teenage girls sitting in the dugout. And he high-fived three wide-eyed little boys.
"My boys are all lefties," their beaming mother announced.
All in a day's work. All before Mauer had put away his bat and retrieved his glove.
And not one of those fans mentioned the fact that, because of a leg injury and pneumonia, Mauer missed 80 games last season and hit a career-low three home runs while batting a career-low .287.
Make no mistake about it: Mauer is still the face of the franchise. As he goes, so go the Twins.
And it seems like he never says no.
"That's something I've had to learn to do: Say no," Mauer said Thursday. "I like to be accommodating, I try to do whatever I can, but, at the end of the day, I've got a job to do, too."
Mauer caught the first four innings of the Twins' 17-6 loss to the Pirates on Thursday. He had been planning to catch six, but when the game dragged on, he exited early. It was his eighth game of the spring.
Mauer went 1-for-3, raising his exhibition average to .290, and he singled home a pair of runs.
Mauer knows a lot is expected of him, as well as teammate and fellow former American League MVP Justin Morneau, who is hitting just .136 with one RBI so far this spring.
"We understand we're pieces of a puzzle," Mauer said.
But while he has yet to homer this spring, Mauer, the 2009 MVP, is content with his progress and his performance.
"It's a process, I'm getting there," Mauer said. "I feel pretty good about the position I'm at right now, but I'm not ready to break camp yet. I've still got a lot of work to do."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire insists he isn't worried about his four-time All-Star catcher.
"Joe Mauer is fantastic," Gardenhire declared. "He's as good as he's been in a long time."
Neverthless, one wonders whether the demands of catching night after night, and carrying so much of the Twins' offensive load, might be taking their toll on Mauer, causing him to slow down.
"I'm only 28," he pointed out, flashing the familiar smile that so many Twins' fans have come to know.
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.