If you want to know why Minnesotans, myself included, get a little defensive when people talk about Joe Mauer leaving for, well, anywhere else, it comes from something beyond the "favorite son" notion. Mauer's been a story in Minnesota for much longer than the six years he's been with the Twins.
He burst onto the Minnesota sports stage in 2000 when he quarterbacked Cretin-Derham Hall to an undefeated season and a state title. Later that year, Mauer was named Gatorade's Player of the Year in both Baseball and Football, and became the top recruit in the nation in football before committing to Florida State, but also making himself eligible for baseball's amateur draft.
The Twins were criticised for taking Mauer ahead of Mark Prior in that 2001 draft, with many in the national media believing that the groundswell of fan support had blinded the front office. Nine years later, you'd be hard-pressed to find one who'd express the same feelings today.
In a way, his Gatorade Player of the Year award was simply a sign of things to come. 2009 saw him win his first AL MVP, his second Gold Glove, and his third Silver Slugger award. The reigning AL...everything was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions.
Dan Wade: As a former winner of the Gatorade Player of the Year, what is it like to win a national award of this caliber as a high schooler?
Joe Mauer: It’s unbelievable. To think how many kids play High-school football across the country, I think they said it was over 1,000,000 kids playing high-school football, you know, and so to be recognized as one of the top players, if not the top player, is definitely an honor, and Gatorade does a great job of not only picking a great football player, but a great person in the community and his school. They definitely do their homework on these guys; they picked a good one here at Oaks Christian [2009 winner Malcom Jones].
DW: What impressed you most about this year’s finalist for player of the year?
JM: He’s the all-around package. It’s easy to look at his ability on the field and at his numbers and realize he’s something special as a football player, but talking with his family and some classmates and coaches, he is the total package. He’s great at school, volunteers a lot of time, and he’s great in the community, so, like I said, those are things that Gatorade looks at as part of the total picture.
DW: Something people may not know is that you were the number one recruit for Florida State coming out of high school, but you elected to go to the draft and were subsequently taken by the Twins. How did you make the decision to go with baseball over football?
JM: I think for me, ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to play in the big leagues. The whole football thing didn’t come up until after my junior season when we went undefeated and won the state championship, and the next thing I know, my mail just went up a lot from different schools contacting me about a football scholarship, but you know, I enjoy playing football and I definitely enjoy playing basketball, but one of my dreams was to play in the big leagues and going through this whole recruiting process I think schools knew that and teams knew that, but to go play for Bobby Bowden at Florida State at the time would definitely have been a great road to go too.
DW: If you couldn’t be a catcher, what other position would you most like to play?
JM: You know, as long as I’m in that lineup. I love catching, being involved in every pitch of the game, obviously it beats you up both mentally and physically. If I couldn’t play catcher, I’d try to find somewhere, to figure out where I could be in that lineup.
DW: You’ve had a pretty unique set of Dome experiences from playing in the Prep Bowl [Minnesota’s State Championships for football] to Game 163 to the Playoffs. What’s your favorite Dome memory?
JM: You know, probably just this last season, 2009. Like you said, I’ve had a lot of games in the dome, both professionally and as an amateur, but I’d probably say 2009 with Game 163 with the Tigers. It probably wasn’t the best played game fundamentally, but probably one of the most exciting to watch as a fan and to be a part of with what was on the line, and extra innings, and the way it all played out as the last regular season game in the Dome. That has to be right at the top.
2006 when we won the division on the last day, stayed around for a couple of hours, and pretty much the whole crowd stayed around with us to watch Detroit/Kansas City game on the Jumbotron, winning the State Championship as a Junior for Cretin—it was their first state championship for the program—and I think everyone back home in Minnesota knows what kind of program they have, with all the players that have gone through there and are continually going through there, so.
And, you know, it actually starts back in when I was in fifth grade, I played for Jimmy Lee Rec Center in St. Paul and we had a game there. So you think about playing games when you’re 11 or 12 years old to now, I’m 26, I’ve spent a lot of time in there.
DW: Something that local fans know that the national audience may not is that your family’s interaction with the Twins goes well beyond just you. You’ve got your dad and your brother working within the organization and you’ve got family members, like your grandparents, coming to games. What does it mean to you to have your family coming to so many of your games?
JM: It’s great. You know, I just finished my sixth year in the big leagues and I think my grandparents have missed a total of three games, so you figure 81 a year, three to four games over a six year span…that’s pretty crazy. You know, there’s a lot of support there—family and friends—I grew up 7 miles from the Dome; it’s pretty neat to have that support. But there are a lot of ticket requests and things like that, but obviously the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
Ed. Note: Thanks very much to Joe Mauer for his time, and to Aron Glatzer and Gatorade for setting up the interview !
As this is the 25th anniversary of Gatorade's Player of the Year program, fans have a chance to vote for their favorite palyer of all time at http://playeroftheyear.gatorade.com.
After you vote, you can enter a sweepstakes to win a prize in that sport or win a chance to attend the ESPYs.