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Opinion

Mauer’s retirement marks the end of an era for Minnesota Twins baseball

November 12, 2018

Joe Mauer, a player many fans of the Minnesota Twins would consider as a baseball legend, announced his retirement from Major League Baseball during the early hours of the evening on November 9, 2018. Mauer’s announcement was the final leg in a journey that began for him over 17 years ago when he was drafted number one overall by his hometown team, the Twins in the June 2001 MLB Amateur Draft. Now the hometown hero from St. Paul has made the final decision to hang up the cleats and settles down to raise his children.

As someone who has spent most of their life watching Joe Mauer play baseball for the Minnesota Twins, the announcement of his retirement hits me with a little emotion. Joe Mauer was the first name that was highlighted as a superstar to my five-year-old eyes back in 2004 when Mauer broke into the big leagues. A year later, I began playing little league baseball after completing kindergarten and I jumped at the opportunity to play catcher just like my favorite big league player Joe Mauer. I kept playing that position until I had to get glasses in the 5th grade because anyone who has worn a catcher mask knows it’s impossible to have glasses on underneath it.

Theodore Tollefson meeting Joe Mauer for the first time. (Photo by Daniel Tollefson)

Two years after Mauer’s debut in 2006 I started collecting baseball cards. I always had anticipation to unwrap a new Mauer card into my collection and was blown away when I finally did with his first ever all-star card. As a nine-year-old kid soon to turn ten, I got the chance to meet my big league hero in 2009 at Twinsfest, (the preseason fan event held every January by the Minnesota Twins since 1991) and got that same exact card autographed right before Mauer would go onto play in his MVP season.

As my years as a ballplayer went on and I moved from catcher to the new position of second base. I knew that there would be some way I could model my way of playing the game after Mauer. A few years in a row for Christmas, my grandparents bought me the most up to date versions of MLB 2K video games, and instead of playing the game like a normal kid. I used the game as a way to model my own batting stance after those Major Leaguers had. I went from doing Ichiro’s long right arm stretch before swinging to the high leg kick of Jose Bautista. I finally settled in on a stance that was very similar to Mauer, and just like him, I learned to place the ball on contact hitting it to the opposite field.

It wouldn’t be for another two years until I would encounter Mauer again at the 2011 Twinsfest where I sat in with a friend on a kids Q&A session with the MVP Mauer himself. In that session, Joe Mauer became the first person I ever interviewed when I was able to ask him a question. Unlike any of the kids asking him what his favorite food was or what he likes to go fishing for, I wanted to ask Mauer a real baseball question stating, “My name is Theo, and my question is do you think you’re the next batter to hit .400?”

After asking that question, there were people in the crowd cheering, and Mauer took some time to think about his response. Once he did, Mauer said, “I don’t know. I can definitely shoot for it, that would be something. I think I’m more worried about trying to win a World Series rather than hitting .400.”

For an 11 year-old-kid, that was truly surreal. I certainly have to thank my mother for driving me to that Twinsfest so I could have the chance to take part in that Q&A. Then as the years went on after that, Mauer slowly became the best thing about Twins teams that were slumping in the standings. Mauer continued to pound out his batting average as one of the top ten in the major leagues, representing the Twins at all-star games and winning a couple more silver sluggers along the way.

Right as the 2013 MLB season had concluded, the Twins PR announced Mauer would become the team’s full-time first baseman in 2014. By that time I was in the 9th grade, I had become more worried about girls than my grades in school, but I would always have the time for baseball, even in the cold months of winter. When word caught my ears of Mauer’s move to first, I still had that optimistic boy within me believing in the chance Mauer would be the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to have their batting average over the .400 mark for a single season.

Over Mauer’s next three seasons as a first baseman, his hitting for average went into major decline going from .324 in 2013, to .277 in 2014, .265 in 2015, and finally, .261 in 2016. It was crushing to see my childhood baseball hero have his age and injuries catch up with him. Still being just a kid at the time who was ready to believe he was more grown-up than he actually was, I didn’t allow myself to comprehend the hardships a concussion can bring on a human being. For the human named Joe Mauer, the hardship of his concussion was not being able to hit a baseball as well as he was used to. That showed greatly in his average, and it led fans to be harder on him. Myself included.

Then 2017 came around a strange but thrilling season for the Minnesota Twins. They made the postseason for the first time since 2010 when they won the American League Central Division title, but this time, it was the second AL Wild Card spot to go up against the dreaded New York Yankees. Mauer did surprise the fans too as he and his teammates already had. He had a .305 batting average on the season, proving he could still see the ball as he once did.

Finally, we reached 2018. The last year in Mauer’s enormous 8-year, $184,000,000 contract. The question on every fans mind was if Mauer would retire at the end of this season when this contract was up? During the final month of the season in September, Twins fans were starting to believe this was the end of Mauer’s career.

I was fortunate enough to see Mauer play twice in the final week of his career. The first game that week was on September 26 against the Detroit Tigers. I went with my grandparents as a surprise birthday present for my grandma, and the three of us saw Mauer did his usual get one hit and one walk performance that game. The second game was on September 28, the nightcap of the doubleheader the Twins played that day against the Chicago White Sox. I went with a girl I had only known for a few weeks, but the game was emotional, as I knew going in, this was going to be the last time I would ever see Joe Mauer play ball in person.

Mauer went 2 for 4 in that game as the designated hitter, and when he was replaced with a pinch runner after his final hit of that game. I stood up to join the crowd in a standing ovation and strangely enough, I could feel my eyes tearing up. This was it. This was the last at-bat my favorite baseball player as a kid would have before my very eyes, and he ended it poetically with a base hit. Now I knew what my dad was talking about when he saw Rod Carew play for his final game for the California Angels in 1985. It was also the same feeling I had when my dad and I listened to Vin Scully call his final game for the Dodgers on October 1, 2016. I was absolutely glad and a little sad. The career of a legend was over. An era of Twins baseball was over. I was sad that this was its last stop but absolutely glad I was able to live through it all.

Theo Tollefson is editor of the Student Voice.

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