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TWINS: Mauer draws a crowd at spring training, no matter what he does

by Mike McFeely

Fort Myers, Fla.

Joe Mauer can't go anywhere at the Twins spring training complex without fans yelling his name.

"Joe! Can you sign this?"

"Joe! Can you come over here?"

"Hey, Joe! How are the twins?"

Through it all, Mauer maintains his bemused smile and polite demeanor. While signing autographs for fans, he chats pleasantly with them ("Nice to see you," he says to one fan) and answers their questions about the twin daughters he and his wife Maddie had last summer (Maren and Emily are doing great, Joe says).

Joe Mauer is a popular autograph for Twins fans in Fort Myers.

Such is the life of Joe Mauer. On a team lacking in victories and star power, the former MVP and batting champ is the big draw for both fans and media.

It is interesting to watch up close how he manages both. 

Mauer maintains a strict routine in the morning of not doing lengthy interviews, but will agree to do them in the afternoon if the requesting media member sets it up ahead of time and it fits into Mauer's busy schedule. He's not rude to anybody, or big-timing them. He just is a stickler for routine and his time.

Other media members who cover Mauer on a regular basis say he likes to be away from the crowd when doing one-on-one interviews because if he does one TV interview, for example, other TV crews will move in and ask him for one-on-ones. 

I'm told Mauer also doesn't like to be the last player off the practice field because then he is the sole target of autograph seekers. If five or six or 10 Twins are walking off the field at the same time, then attention is deflected. 

Again, Mauer isn't a jerk about it. It's just subtle things he tries to do. 

Wednesday, for example, Mauer gave me a quick interview and that meant he was the last player off the field. So he was the only focus of the mini-gauntlet of fans waiting between the field and the clubhouse. Not a big deal. Mauer stopped and chatted and signed probably 15-20 autographs before ducking into the clubhouse.

Joe Mauer waiting his turn at batting practice.

I had a chance to talk with Twins infield instructor Tom Kelly, the former manager, about Mauer's move to first base. Kelly said everything is going fine and he is not worried about Mauer being able to handle first base.

"Joe could play first, second, third, short, anywhere," Kelly said. "That's not a problem. I'm not worried about Joe."

Kelly did say he was working on a couple of specific things defensively with Mauer.

No. 1 ... "Catch the ball," Kelly said, before explaining further. "It sounds simple, but what I mean is don't be a super-hero, don't be stretching to make a fantastic play to get an out. When you do that, you end up chasing the ball and that's when you get in trouble. Catch the ball."

No. 2 ... "We're trying to make sure he doesn't get hurt," Kelly said, before again explaining further. Basically, coaches will focus on teaching Mauer to make a play and avoid collisions. If, for example, there is a throw up the line toward home plate, coaches are showing Mauer how to catch, tag and get out of the way.

The conversation I had with Kelly goes toward what I've always said about spring training in general and TK in specific: You'd be surprised how fundamental things are, even if the players involved are All-Star/batting champion/MVPs like Joe Mauer.

And, by the way, when I commented to a Twin Cities media member about how Mauer has to deal with media and autograph-seeking fans every day, the media member chuckled.

"You give me his paycheck and I will talk with anybody about anything and sign whatever you hold out for me to sign," he said.

Agreed. Mauer signed an 8-year, $184 million contract in 2010. He's guaranteed $23 million per season.

Being Joe Mauer ain't a bad place to be.

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