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A hometown hero stays at home

  

By Gordy Jones

 

As Joe Mauer’s family and friends tailgated in the parking lot of Hammond Field in Fort Myers, someone in the group wondered what would have happened if the Twins and Joe’s agent, Ron Shapiro, had not come to an agreement and Joe had ended up on the Yankees? “That would’ve been terrible,” someone said.

“That never would have happened!” belted out Joe’s dad, Jake. “He couldn’t get his number 7 – they’ve already retired it for Mantle!”

The group responded with laughter.

As Joe signed his contract on March 22, at 7:08 p.m., I knew that, other than his thousands of fans, he’ll be the last person who will ever wear a number 7 on a Twins uniform. This is a monumental deal that will shape the franchise’s future. With Ron Shapiro and Bill Smith doing most of the negotiating, it was a great outcome for both sides. They both got what they wanted.

I have never seen Joe quite so emotional as he signed his eight-year, $184 million deal. Although he is soft-spoken, he’s usually direct, says what’s on his mind and is done with it. This time he was quite choked up, especially when he publicly thanked his family for their loyal support over the years…and I noticed that Mom and Dad were a bit overwhelmed, too.

After the ceremony, his brother Bill, who had just flown in with his wife and children, told me, “Yeah, Joe called me yesterday at about 4 o’clock and said, ‘Guess what I just did…I agreed to a contract, and I thought I better tell you because it’s going to be on the news in an hour.’ I had already planned on coming down here today, so this worked out perfect.”

The press conference was quite convenient for his brother Jake, who stays with Joe in Florida and as the manager of the Fort Myers Miracle, has an office in the very building where the conference was held. “I’m so happy for him. This is pretty exciting! Joe works so hard.”

That he does. Here’s his routine from a few days ago: He woke up at 5 and had breakfast on the run as he went to meet Orlando Hudson for an early-morning workout. Then he reported to the ballpark at 8:30 a.m., for a 1 p.m., game. Until game time, he took batting practice, fielding practice and worked on some drills. He played most of the game and got three hits. After the game, his friends and family went out to happy hour for a little food and fun. His close friend Tony Leseman was visiting, and I asked him where Joe was. Tony replied that some of the guys knew of a swimming pool that had workout equipment in it, so they had gone to try it out. Another long day!

Joe’s brother Jake talked about the public perception of a ballplayer’s life. “Many people think they show up to play the game, then go home. You don’t get to the level Joe’s at by just showing up.”

Many Minnesota reporters flew in to cover this event. The big topic among them was how they got gouged buying last minute airline tickets. “I paid $1400 for coach!” shouted one reporter.

Also in attendance, showing their support for Joe was Justin Morneau, Steve Liddle and Ron Gardenhire. Reporters were told to identify themselves, their affiliation and to proceed with a question. Justin took the reporters’ microphone and said, “Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins. Now are you going to buy me dinner?”

Mauer and Morneau have a running joke that Joe never buys. If Joe waits too long he’ll have to buy three dinners, because Justin’s wife, Krista, is expecting a child.

Justin also had his father, George, visiting him last week, and they were able to spend some time alone, fishing. At the ballpark, George, being a proud father, loves to work the crowd, answering questions about his son, and even signing autographs. On the annual Minnesota Day at spring training, fans tailgate from early in the morning and hold up signs saying which Minnesota city they are from. Former players even come out to participate. This year, Tony Oliva — in full uniform — visited campsites and even played beanbag toss.

George Morneau loved this, too. He walked and talked to the crowd until he ran into Jake Mauer, Joe’s father. The two of them shook hands, sat and laughed, ate tailgate food, and talked for hours. As I watched them visit, I realized I was watching two of the happiest guys in the world. Why not! They have great sons who are great athletes, happy, intelligent and they both have great contracts. But I think the dads are the real M & M boys!

 

Check out Gordy’s book at http://www.baseballguy.org. Gordy can be reached at gejones1@aol.com.