Twins catcher Joe Mauer became a full-fledged hero in Minnesota, and across baseball for that matter, when he signed an eight-year, $184 million contract extension with his hometown club before the 2010 season.
"It was where I was happy," said Mauer, who was recently in New York City to promote MLB 11 The Show, a video game on which he graces the cover for the second straight year. "Another big thing was the chance of winning. I feel like we have a great chance of winning in Minnesota. I'm definitely comfortable there. I have my family and my friends' support there, and I really couldn't see myself in another uniform."
Mauer is a Minnesotan through and through. He was born in St. Paul and became a three-sport star at the city's Cretin-Derham Hall High School. Twins fans were ecstatic when the club drafted the local boy first overall in 2001 and even more thrilled when he passed up the chance to hit the open market in order to remain committed to the Twins through '18.
Albert Pujols doesn't have the same sort of connection to St. Louis. While he has spent all of his 10 major league seasons with the Cardinals, he was born and raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and didn't immigrate to the United States until he was 16.
Nevertheless, Pujols is an icon in Redbirds country, which has made his recent contract negotiations so unsettling for fans. A preseason deadline came and went last month without a deal, and the slugger's agent has said that further contract talks have been suspended until after this season.
After LeBron James' free agency drama last summer, some sports fans are simply fed up with athletes selling their skills to the highest bidder or the team that can give them the best chance of winning an easy championship, but Mauer said every guy has to do what's best for him.
"I probably would've handled things a lot different than some of those other guys, but it's their life and you just wish them the best," he said. "I know Albert, and I know he's a good person and a good guy, and you just wish the best for him."
Some are criticizing Pujols for how he is handling these negotiations, but he didn't have to give his current team a chance to sign him to an extension before the season starts. He could have just waited until he becomes a free agent in November and is available to talk to any organization he wants.
Whether the three-time MVP is asking for too much is another issue, but the best player in the game should probably make the most money.
Twins fans are just happy they didn't have to experience similar drama this winter with their prized catcher, but there was some uncertainly surrounding one of their pitchers recently.
Francisco Liriano avoided arbitration when he inked a one-year, $4.3 million deal with Minnesota last month. The southpaw requested $5 million, but was offered $3.6 million, so the two sides split the difference.
Mauer said the rest of the team wasn't affected too much by the negotiations.
"We know what type of guy Franky is," he said. "You have to understand it's between him and the club. It's not that he doesn't like his teammates or anything like that. We're going to support him and we know that he can help us out a lot. We want to see him take the ball every fifth day.
"Those things won't distract you unless you let it distract you. You understand that it's a group of 25 guys and you try to pull for each other and keep everything within the clubhouse. We've been able to do that over the years."
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Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at email@example.com
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