In a state that has otherwise been tortured by bad sports news over the last number of years, Minnesota fans finally received good news when NHL star free agent Zach Parise opted to sign a deal with them rather than pursue that big money elsewhere. By making his return to Minnesota he becomes a “hometown hero” on a 13 year, $98 million contract. Think about where you will be in 13 years and then remember, Parise will still (in theory) be a member of the Minnesota Wild.
Two years ago Twins catcher Joe Mauer was lauded for a similar gesture of loyalty to the great state of Minnesota when he signed an 8 year, $184 million contract. Had Mauer hit free agency, he likely would have received even more than that inexplicable $184 million number from one of the looming evil franchises known as the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.
Thunderous applause rang statewide in praise of Mauer’s loyalty. As Target Field then opened and it looked like the Twins were settling into an era of prosperity, Mauer, with his old school helmet under his catcher’s mask, handsome sideburns and calm demeanor, was the face of it all.
Joe Mauer was considered a figure who seemingly could do no wrong.
A devastating lack of success combined with an injury-riddled stretch for Mauer, and all of a sudden that big contract feels much heavier. It weighs on fans’ minds as they wonder if Mauer’s proneness to injury makes him overrated. Is that contract an anchor for a middle market franchise? It also weighs on Mauer, as he has recently felt the need to defend his work ethic against the complaints of his fan base. Outside of Minnesota, there was more eye rolling than celebrating when he was named an All-Star as a catcher. At home and nationally, a productive and consistent first half still does not feel like enough to justify that big hulking long term contract.
Do you see where this is going Zach? Even your hometown Minnesotans, with their supposed midwest hospitality and niceties, will be skeptical of you if you do not deliver significant returns in the victory column.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with that…nothing other than the painful realization for smaller fan bases that they are no different than the “jerks” in Philadelphia, New York, or Boston. In a big market, Yankees fans have somehow turned an all-time great player and future Hall of Famer in Alex Rodriguez into a polarizing figure who regularly gets booed at home. Entitled jerks, right? But then consider this: in a smaller market, Colorado Rockies fans are so upset that they are actually suggesting that the team trade franchise shortstop Troy Tulowitzki because he “chokes” and is injury prone. Finally, in his very first season as a member of the Los Angeles Angels, the best hitter in baseball the last decade, Albert Pujols, was viciously booed for his slow start. He had been a member of the team for less than two months at the time.
What do these “controversial” players have in common? Huge long term contracts. When it comes to big money these days, the romanticism of the new deal fades quickly and the cool cynicism of internet-informed 2012 fans who want to see their team win settles in for the long haul.
All of this brings us to a potentially awkward moment today when Parise throws the ceremonial first pitch to Mauer. The applause for Parise will be thunderous. It’s all good for him right now. One cannot help but wonder if Mauer, as he walks onto the field with him, will hear those familiar cheers and roll his eyes.
Enjoy that ovation today, Zach. Because after that you have 13 years of suffocating pressure to endure. Unless hockey fans in Minnesota are of a more patient and kind mold…