Minnesota Twins: Thank you for all that you have done, Joe Mauer
By Matt Smith
As the career of one of the best to ever wear the Minnesota Twins uniform likely comes to a close, I thank you, Joe, for everything you have done.
I had an opportunity to be at Game 162, but I passed on it. One of the friends I made over the years on one of the various sports forums I frequent messaged me and asked if I would be interested in their tickets for the game. They would be out of town and unable to make it. I desperately wanted to go, but I was coaching that weekend and my team had a tournament ending that Sunday afternoon. With the Minnesota Twins final game starting at 2:10, my team’s final game ending sometime between 3:00-3:30, and an hour drive to get to Target Field, I figured I wouldn’t make it until 4:00 or later, likely the 6th inning or 7th inning at best. I knew Joe Mauer would be making what could be his final appearance in his career, and I badly wanted to witness it. But as a first year coach who made a commitment to my team, there was no way I could leave our games early. I figure most of the fanfare for Joe would take place before the game and in his first at bat, which I would miss anyways. So I passed on the offer.
Well, I still got the tickets and sent them along to some family members that would enjoy going, and they did. But unfortunately I would not be there to witness Joe’s potential last game. While Zack Littell began his windup for the first pitch of the game, I coached my team, unaware to what was going on. We finished up our last game of what turned out to be a very successful weekend, and we packed up and headed for home. After a quick shower, I met up with my girlfriend (who also is a big Twins fan- a keeper, no doubt), we headed downstairs to catch the last few innings of the game. Good timing, the game was about to head into the bottom of the 6th, just in time to see Mitch Garver get on base for Max Kepler‘s 20th home run of the year, giving the Twins a 5-2 lead.
A few moments later and we were headed into the bottom of the 7th. Joe was due up second for what very well could be the final at bat of his career. After a flyout from catcher Juan Graterol, Joe stepped into the box. With the whole stadium on their feet, and chants of “Joe, Joe, Joe” echoing in the background, he worked a 3-2 count, before lacing the 6th pitch of the at bat to left, hustling until the very end to leg out a double. The 7th hit of the game in the 7th inning for the Minnesota Twins’ #7. What a classic Joe at bat.
After an emotional ovation, the game continued on. Joe would be stranded at second, and the White Sox would score 2 runs in the top of the 8th, but the best was yet to come.
Fast forward to the middle of the 9th inning. The voice of the Minnesota Twins, Dick Bremer, had mentioned on the TV broadcast that they would not go to commercial break between innings. I had figured there would be one last ovation for Joe before the end of the game, and Bremer’s comment confirmed that in my mind. I was right. Sort of.
After what felt like an abnormally long time of everyone waiting around for something to happen, a man in full catcher’s gear quietly emerged from the Twins’ dugout. “No. No way. No way! Joe’s going to catch!” I was shocked. Emotions that I cannot even begin to describe instantly overwhelmed me, and still today again rise up as I type this out.
Everyone always says there’s no crying in baseball, but baseball is going to have to deal with it this time.
What an incredible, beautiful moment. Matt Belisle delivered a pitch a few inches outside, and after attempting to frame the pitch like any good catcher, Joe called time and made his way out to the mound. Emotions took over again as I realized it would be a 1-pitch tribute, and this would likely be the final moments we ever see Joe in a Minnesota Twins uniform as a player. Again, another beautiful moment as Joe and Belisle embraced on the mound before Joe made his way back to the dugout.
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Back to reality, there was a game to finish. After Belisle’s overshadowed sendoff ended with a Yoan Moncada double, I began to worry that the Twins would blow the game and miss the opportunity to put the final touch on what had been a sendoff more perfect than I could have ever imagined. But, Trevor May came in, struck two guys out, and with a fly ball to Kepler, the Twins finished the storybook ending.
As Joe’s visible emotions rose in his post game interviews and press conference, and we learned more about what led up to the beautiful moment of him catching for one last time, the tears returned for myself and Minnesota Twins fans across the world. From learning how the White Sox were in on the 1-pitch tribute, protecting Joe’s promise to his wife that he would never again be put in the situation of a foul tip causing another concussion, to Joe retelling how the last time he opened the bag holding his catcher’s gear was 5 years ago, and the unveiling of some absolutely incredible pictures of Joe sitting in his catcher’s gear in the clubhouse moments before taking the field, the moment became all the more beautiful.
It was the perfect sendoff for Joe. From his twin daughters surprising him on the field before the game, to the classic Joe Mauer double in his last at bat, to the emotional moment where he returned as a catcher for one last time, not a single thing could have made Joe’s day any more perfect. Well played, Mauer.
Joe, thank you.
Thank you for everything you did for the state of Minnesota and the Minnesota Twins. From day 1, you were a true professional, all the way until the very end, when you were worried that you were taking up too much time during your tribute as catcher and wanted everyone to hurry up and get out on the field with you so we could get the game going again. You deserved your time.
The sideburns, the Gold Gloves, the batting titles, the TV commercials, Game 163s, the MVP, the contract, the division championships, the playoff losses, the concussions, you stayed loyal to the team and to the state through all of it. Many fans did not stay loyal to you. But you never faltered. You were a true professional, the best of the best. Thank you for taking your moment. I cannot put into words how much it meant to myself and the other Twins fans out there, and I know it meant so much to you, too.
You, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer defined the Minnesota Twins to me in my childhood. The game will never be the same without you. But if you are truly finished, there was no better ending to your story.
Thank you, Joe.