Our Hometown Joe
By T. A. Fry
The crowd rose to its feet for his final walk,
In blue catcher’s gear, not worn in years.
He strode to the plate, slowly crouched, then caught,
One final pitch to end a great career.
Joe then tipped his cap, left to acclaim.
The win in the balance, three outs to get.
No letting nostalgia disrespect the game,
There’ll be time for laurels, we won’t forget.
But who’ll mark the next fifteen? My Mother –
Gone, who loved this Joe. Baseball her last one
Great love affair. Always rooting for our
Hometown heroes; Hrbek, Morris, Mauer
Molitor, Winfield and Puckett. All sons
Who rose, beyond the hopes of their brothers.
Traditions don’t start out as traditions. It becomes a tradition when its been going on for so long you can’t remember when it started. I have been to the last home game of either the Minnesota Twins or Oakland A’s for over 20 years. I can’t tell you the first time but I can tell you the year it became a tradition; 2003. That’s because the previous year in 2002, the Twins had faced the Oakland A’s in the first round of the playoffs and won the series 3-2, going on to lose to the eventual world series champions the Anaheim Angels in the second round. The next year my Mother and I looked at the schedule in May and I bought tickets for whichever team was home for the last game of the year. It just so happened that they alternated for a series of years while she was living in the Bay area and a big A’s fan and Twin’s fan. From 2003 to 2015, the year before she died, we would go to the last game of the season together. And what made those games remarkable was the consistency with which either the Twins or the A’s made the playoffs during that 13 year period.
The decade of the 90’s saw the Twins make the playoffs in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010. A remarkable run fueled by great young players, but at the center of every one of those teams was Joe Mauer. Justin Mourneau won the AL MVP in 2006 and Joe Mauer won it in 2009, each having a remarkable year that wound never be equaled again in their careers.
Joe parlayed a run of greatness from 2006 to 2009, that saw him win three batting titles, the only catcher in major league history to do so, into the largest contract ever signed by a Minnesota Twin, an eight year 180 million dollar contract that made him one of the highest paid baseball players at the time. It has pained me during the past 8 years to see sports writer after sports writer criticize Joe for not equaling the greatness of 2006 to 2010 during the course of the past eight years. Yes, Joe never hit as many home runs again as 2009 or won another batting title; injuries, concussions and age finally catching up. But let’s make no mistake as we look back on Joe’s career – Joe Mauer earned every penny he made in this game.
Joe has been the greatest baseball player that each of us as Twins fans had the privilege to root for over the past 15 years. Joe accomplished things as a hitter during his career that put him in the mix with some of the greatest players of the past 80 years. Joe’s batting title in 2009 with a season long .365 average has only been bettered since 1941 by Ted Williams, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Nomar Garciaparra and Ichiro Suzuki. The fact that Joe was a catcher, taking a beating daily behind the plate from foul tips all season long makes that 2009 season stand out as one of the best by any player in the past 100 years.
Joe never changed as a ball player. He certainly doesn’t fit the mold of today’s MVPs, with all the focus on home runs, launch angle and the hit for power cybermetrics that dominates baseball now. Joe’s sweet swing never changed from his first game to his last at bat. He could hit for power once in a while, but it was not his bread and butter. Joe was one of the best 2 strike hitters in baseball history. Joe seemed to more often than not work the count deep, waiting for his pitch to shoot the ball the other way into the gap or up the middle. He was not a pull hitter, he was a smart contact hitter and he wasn’t going to change.
My mother adored Joe Mauer. On a visit to the Metrodome back in the 2000’s she took home a give away Joe Mauer doll. To this day, that doll rides her trike that she grew up pedaling as a three-year old. That Joe Mauer doll was her good luck charm during the Twins playoff years, her silly companion watching every single game during the regular seasons and a fond reminder of her unabashed love of Joe as a baseball player.
What makes Joe Mauer a special ball player, is more than what he accomplished on the field. In all the years of Joe’s career he not only had to carry the expectations of on field success, he had to carry an entire regions hopes and dreams of being the hometown hero off the field as well. Although the elusive elixir of winning a World Series alluded the Twins during his tenure, Joe never once disrespected the game. He never once embarrassed the team or the state of Minnesota with an off field or on field issue. Joe played this game of baseball with as much finesse, class and skill as is humanly possible. I will always feel fortunate to have been present to watch him on his last moment in uniform, watch him collect his last hit, a classic hussle Joe Mauer double to the opposite field and take that final pitch and walk off the field. Thank you Joe for a great career!
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