It was the summer of 2001 and this little known writer was a town ball player for the Maple Lake Lakers. Maple Lake is a rural town about 55 miles west of the Twin Cities with a deep town ball tradition, currently winning the 2023 Class C State Title . Our opponent for the day was Air Freight Unlimited of St. Paul.
Air Freight was composed of the three Mauer brothers: Joe, Jake and Billy, along with a host of former players from the baseball hotbed of Cretin-Derham Hall High School and current University of Minnesota and St. Thomas players keeping their skills sharp in the summer. What made this game significant was it happened two days before the MLB draft where Joe Mauer was projected to go No. 1 to the Minnesota Twins.
It was a hot, breezy Sunday with the wind blowing out at Maple Lake that afternoon. Billy Mauer started on the mound, Joe catching and brother Jake at shortstop. It was a tough day for pitchers as runs were plentiful in a game that resembled more of a softball slugfest.
I was a left fielder and in Joe's first at bat he laced a slicing line drive down the line on one hop off the fence. I played the ball off the fence in the air and threw to the cut off man. Joe was at 3rd with a triple by the time the ball got to the infield. An impressive display of hustle for a Sunday afternoon town ball game as 90% of players would have trotted into 2nd and called it good. The partisan Maple Lake crowd clapped with approval for Joe's efforts.
When it was all said and done Joe ended up 5-5 on the day and legend has it, he missed the cycle by not hitting a single. The final score ended with wild score changes and Air Freight on top somewhere around the 27-21 range with the hitter friendly breeze. The locals were proud of our efforts against such a talented squad and Air Freight Unlimited played the game with an effort that kept fans entertained.
After the game Joe politely and sheepishly signed autographs for the young fans and responded with thank you's to the adults taking in the tilt. Two days later Joe was selected with the #1 draft pick by the Minnesota Twins, embarking on his MLB career and cementing another story into the lore of Maple Lake Lakers town ball history. Perhaps it was the game against the Maple Lake Lakers that put him over the top??? That triple over my head??? Optimism at its finest!
As Joe is hopefully and deservedly freight training his way into the MLB Hall of Fame this week. Hopefully he can look back, smile and reminisce on his last game as an amateur with his St. Paul comrades if his eyes find their way to this story.