The majority of Major League Baseball fans and followers are now well aware of what Joe Mauer can do on the diamond.
In 2001 he was selected as the first overall pick in the draft. At the time it was really a questionable decision with the amount of hype surrounding a right-handed pitcher from the University of Southern California, Mark Prior.
Minnesota's decision to take Mauer looked like a mistake when Prior went 18-6 in his second season with the Chicago Cubs. He finished third in NL Cy Young voting, compiling outstanding pitching statistics, with an earned run average (ERA) of 2.43, 211.1 innings pitched, 245 strikeouts, and an impressive WHIP of 1.1.
Many baseball wonks were calling Prior the next Nolan Ryan. Little did they know that a series of events would eventually be the quick end of a promising start to his career. An injury to his Achilles tendon, elbow tendinitis, and eventually a 117 MPH line-drive off the elbow in his throwing arm was too much to overcome. He did not pitch in the majors after the 2006 season.
About the time Prior's career was on the ropes, Mauer was just finishing up learning the ropes in the Twins minor league system.
He started his major league career with the Twins in 2004. Everything was pointing towards a very successful start with Mauer. He started the season batting .308 with six home runs through 35 games.
His rookie season was ended when he slid on the rubber warning track behind home plate and got his knee twisted in an awkward manner. There was a lot of talk about taking the catcher and moving him to third base to prevent recurring knee issues.
Issues came into the limelight again during the 2007 season, when he was found to have a stress reaction in the fibula in his left leg. After winning his first batting title in 2006, it seemed inevitable that the top two picks in 2001 might both be hampered by the injury bug.
A cautious coaching staff and proper treatment of the injury was promised by the Twins organization and Mauer himself. He proclaimed that he was dedicated to being the catcher of the baseball team and had no intentions of a position change. He came back in 2008 to win another batting title, batting .328.
Along came the 2009 season for Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins. With predictions of the team finishing dead last in their division and with the departure of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter taking their toll on the clubhouse and fan base, everything looked to be going the wrong way for the Twins with the exception of Mauer and their 2006 MVP, Justin Morneau.
Guess what would go wrong again? An injury to the Joe Mauer? Yep, you're right, Mauer injured again. Different from previous injuries, this one did not affect his leg, but rather his back. The most difficult positions to play with a back problem are pitcher and catcher.
On top of your batting duties which put the ultimate stress on you back, catchers and pitchers are forced to throw the ball hundreds of times around the field during a game. In addition catchers must squat and receive the pounding of 90-mph fastballs on a consistent basis.
The Twins played it as safe as they possibly could, holding Mauer out as long as possible before their record was getting so bad they had to bring him back to start the month of May.
Like the almighty savior, Joe Mauer has become in Minnesota, in his first at-bat back from his injury, he drilled a home run in the first inning. It just seemed destined that the season would work out the way it did.
Mauer would flirt with batting .400 into late June before he bounced back to reality. His batting average would fluctuate right around .370 pretty much all summer. He finished the season winning his third batting title, batting .365.
The more impressive statistic was the amount of home runs the catcher hit in 2009. The addition of power was more of a surprise than the extremely high batting average. Mauer pounded out 11 home runs in his first month of the season.
Considering Mauer had only hit nine home runs through a healthy 2008, the added power was welcomed by head coach, Ron Gardenhire.
The Twins struggled to find their groove during the first half of the season. Their record hovered right around a .500 winning percentage just about the entire first half. They really did not find their game until mid-September.
They won 18 of 22 to finish the season and forced a playoff game against the Detroit Tigers at the Metrodome. In one of the greatest playoff games to decide a division, Minnesota beat Detroit 6-5 in the 12th inning.
Joe Mauer was widely considered to be the leading candidate for the AL MVP award and with the Twins winning the American League Central Division Championship, he pretty much became a deadlock to take the prize.
Even though the Twins were swept by eventual World Series Champion New York Yankees, Joe Mauer was voted the MVP.
A well-deserved award for a catcher facing so many obstacles: battling through a series of injuries that threatened his career for a short period of time, while facing the difficult odds of becoming the first modern-era catcher to win the batting title; adding power to his repertoire; and being the leader of a young pitching staff which would the most crucial aspect of the 2009 Twins making the largest comeback in the shortest period of time in MLB history.
On top of all his major league success, Joe Mauer is from Saint Paul, Minn.
He attended the perennial high school sports powerhouse, Cretin-Derham Hall. Other alumni include Paul Molitor (MLB), Matt Birk (NFL), Ryan Harris (NFL), Steve Walsh (NFL), and many more star collegiate athletes.
He is easily regarded as the most recognizable sports figure in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. With the departure of Kevin Garnett, Randy Moss, and Marian Gaborik, Minnesotans have fallen in love with the Twins and Joe Mauer. Many people attribute his popularity to the team's success.
With the Twins winning the AL Central five of the last eight years, they have established a significant following among many generations. If you ever attended a game at the Metrodome, you would realize who Twins fans cheer most: it is their catcher wearing No. 7.
Now comes the tricky part: his contract will expire after the 2010 baseball season. The Twins are opening their new ballpark, Target Field for the 2010 season. A lot of the local attention has been focused on the Minnesota Vikings success and the fact that the stadium is opening.
Die-hard sports fan realize how critical it is to get this contract done prior to the start of the season. Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro, is well-known among Twins fans. He is the agent that kept the beloved Kirby Puckett in town, so many are relying on the fact he will get something done. Mauer made it very well known that he wants to win.
The limited payroll and lack of making the "big move" would be the only reason holding Mauer back. I live in the Twin Cities and hear a lot of sports chatter both on the radio and by word of mouth, and the consensus with Mauer is this.
With this state typically being called, "Loserville U.S.A." by my favorite sports talk station, KFAN. You can go through the names of players who played here, left, and brought championships to other cities.
1. Kevin Garnett—Boston Celtics
2. David Ortiz—Boston Red Sox
3. Randy Moss—New England Patriots
Man do we hate those Boston franchises here in Minnesota: stealing what could be considered the best player at their position in the respective leagues they play in. It is just sickening knowing your team will not spend the money to keep these players in town.
Moss made his own bed and indirectly ended up in Boston, but he is there. The Garnett trade is the reason the lowly Timberwolves can't get 2,000 people to show up at Target Center.
And lastly, the stingy, the crabby former Twins manager Tom Kelly, was too stubborn to let Ortiz take his swing to the next level. It cost the Twins would could have been their much need power hitter in their lineup during their three-peat from 2002-2004.
All I can say Bill Smith is, "don't even dare". You do whatever it takes to keep No. 7 in a Twins uniform. You could sign anyone in the league and it wouldn't make up for that mistake. I'm sorry Mr. Smith but if you do decide to let him hit free agency, then gather your belongings, sign your resignation, and get ready to take a walk, A LONG WALK!