Down on the Farm -- A really good Joe
There are certain moments which will always stand out in the mind of Minnesota Twins fans.
Where were you when the Twins made it to the World Series in 1987 by beating the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs?
I was in a cramped college apartment in Moorhead, watching the game on a tiny black and white television. My eyes misted over.
Where were you when the Twins won the thrilling seventh game of the 1991 World Series?
I was in my parents basement (that's where people with liberal arts degrees go after college) watching the game on a slightly larger television. My throat tightened with emotion.
Where were you when you heard Kirby Puckett had to retire due to glaucoma?
I was at the Polk County Fair in Fertile, but I went home soon thereafter. The party was over.
After last week, Twins fans will remember where they were when they heard that Joe Mauer signed a contract to remain a Twin for the next eight years.
I was watching the health care debate on C-SPAN when the news flashed across my laptop screen. I nearly dumped the laptop on the floor. I immediately called a fellow fan to share the moment.
Why is it news when somebody signs an $184 million contract to play ball?
Well, as a Twins fan since childhood, I have become used to saying goodbye to my favorite players when they migrated towards the big dollars on the coasts.
Old Calvin Griffith, who made his living on baseball, just couldn't compete with the fat cats who spent fortunes earned other places on their hobby, baseball.
Singing Cowboy Gene Autry, owner of the California Angels, got ahold of Rod Carew. Businessman Bob Short of the Texas Rangers got ahold of Bert Blyleven. Milwaukee took Larry Hisle. Autry also grabbed Lyman Bostock. The Dodgers got Dave Goltz.
More recently, Johann Santana preferred the big money and bright lights of New York to the chill of Minnesota. Torii Hunter took his motor mouth to Anaheim.
Deep down, I was preparing for the disappointment of losing Joe Mauer, possibly the greatest catcher to set foot on a ball diamond, to one of the evil empires on the coasts.
However, the Pohlad family was in a spot. Mauer is a hometown boy. He is a one of a kind player. The taxpayers just helped the team build a new stadium. If the Pohlads don't field a good team, there would be a backlash.
A seldom-discussed fact: The Pohlads, unlike Calvin Griffith, are among the richest owners in baseball. They're solid businessmen, so they like a return on their investment. But when it comes time to dig deep, they have the resources.
No sympathy for Mauer, who is now even more obscenely rich than he was before, but he probably left around $50 million on the table by not flirting with the Yankees and Red Sox.
As it is, according to the calculations of one fan writing in the Minneapolis paper, Mauer will be paid about $1,200 every time he squats down behind the plate to catch a pitch. For eight years.
Mauer's contract is likely to become one more reason non-baseball fans give for remaining non-baseball fans.
For baseball fans, however, the real pleasure of the game is watching the great players ply their trade summer night after summer night.
Unlike professional football, where the entire season goes sour if it doesn't end in a Super Bowl victory, the great pleasure of baseball is the lazy, never-ending, night-after-night drama of the regular season.
A World Series? That would be nice, but it's not necessary. Just ask Cubs fans. Rod Carew never won a World Series, but that takes nothing away from the memories of his wizardry at old Metropolitan Stadium.
Mauer is even better.
And unless he gets conked on the bean by an errant fastball, we get to watch him for eight more years.