Let’s just be clear at the start, shall we? Twin Cities PBS (TPT) likely isn’t your first choice for prime sports coverage. Almanac devotes five minutes a month to Minnesota sports by bringing in local writer, producer and commentator Larry Fitzgerald, Sr. to check in on the latest sports stories. From time to time, the legendary likes of Tom Kelly, Harmon Killebrew and Randal McDaniel have stopped in for an interview on the Almanac sofas. But for the most part, TPT leaves sports coverage to its commercial counterparts.
Meet the Press
But on July 18, 2001, TPT joined the sports media regulars as the Twins announced a press conference to introduce the world to their number-one overall pick in the 2001 baseball draft: local high-school star Joe Mauer. Mauer was a graduate of Cretin Derham Hall – and since TPT’s headquarters were a stone’s throw away in Saint Paul, this seemed like the perfect excuse to give sports press-conference coverage a whirl. Sometimes the best decisions are born from proximity.
Tim Belcher, Derek Parks and Joe Mauer
In the introduction to the press conference in this NewsNight clip from 2001, you’ll detect a less-than-faint hint of skepticism from host Lou Harvin – and it’s specifically rooted in the Twins’ then-recent history of failing to sign a number-one pick. Also, the team had developed a reputation for picking players that didn’t quite match up with expectations, Tim Belcher and Derek Parks the prime examples.
Sitting next to Mauer is former Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, who waxes on about the new recruit’s gifts as an athlete, which frankly, is unnecessary: Everyone who followed local sports at the time knew about him. He was the high-school football player of the year at Cretin. He averaged around 20 points a game on the basketball court. He was nearly impossible to get out on the baseball field. Ryan says that Mauer has all of the talents a team looks for in a star recruit. Without ever saying anything directly, Ryan almost appears to defend this decision over some of the unfortunate choices made in the years leading up to this moment.
A man of few words
Then it’s time to hear from the 19-year-old player, himself. Mauer utters about 30 words and only speaks for something like 12 seconds. “I could not ask for a better spot to be placed in. You know, it’s just an unbelievable feeling today. I’m just thankful the Twins selected me, and I’m a baseball player.”
This would become Mauer’s modus operandi. He was always measured, whether at the plate or at the mic. Over the years, some critics would emphasize his lack of emotion, his tendency to avoid any bombastic “rah-rahs” even in the face of victory. He just didn’t possess the fire that some wanted to see in a ball player.
But this even-keeled manner worked for Mauer. The one-time American League MVP provided Minnesotans with years’ worth of professionalism, both on and off the field. He would finish his career as a first baseman, but his most prolific years were as a catcher. In 2009, he did things as a catcher that few ever accomplished before his slashline of .365/.444/.587 led the league. He hit 28 home runs and drove in 98 runs. The six-time all-star led the league in batting average three times and retired with a career average of .306.
His demeanor may have been reserved, but his gifts on the diamond were spectacular.
Joining Twins royalty
Mauer will join the likes of Killebrew, Kelly, Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, Tony Oliva, Bert Blyleven, Kirby Puckett and Jackie Robinson by having his number (number 7) retired by the Minnesota Twins on June 15th, 2019.
Hall of Fame worthy?
It’s a worthy debate, but you have to wonder: Will his next stop be the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? Let us know what you think in the comments. We also love it when readers share a good memory or two.
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