MINNEAPOLIS -- Leave it to Joe Mauer to piggyback a Gillette Children’s Healthcare event on his jersey retirement.

What started 16 years ago as a pizza party at the Davanni’s at Summit and Cleveland was an all-star field day at Target Field on Friday, largely because many of his former teammates were planning to be here Saturday to see the Twins retire that No. 7 jersey.

It was a long way from the pizza party he hosted for Gillette families at the Davanni’s so many years ago, although the spirit remains the same.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of support we continue to see,” Mauer said Friday. “As you guys saw, the panel today was pretty strong.”

Uh, yeah.

Hall of Fame slugger Jim Thome played long toss with a young lady catching with Velcro gloves on her feet, and longtime closer Joe Nathan, headed for Cooperstown in July, ran makeshift bases with kids in right-center field. Two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana played catch, and 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau did a bit of everything.

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All-stars Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and Miguel Sano were on hand, too, as were Twins starters Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson, the latter set to start Friday night against the Royals — not to mention the Wild’s Zach Parise, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen and Minnesota United’s Brent Kallman.

“It really is special when you get those guys out here and support what you’re trying to do,” Mauer said.

In a pregame ceremony before Saturday’s 6:10 p.m. first pitch against the Royals, Mauer will become the eighth player to have his number retired by the Twins, joining Harmon Killebrew (3), Tony Oliva (6), Tom Kelly (10), Kent Hrbek (14), Bert Blyleven (28), Rod Carew (29) and Kirby Puckett (34). Remarkably, it comes less than eight months after his official retirement.

He’s still coming to terms with his inclusion.

“It’s tough. I’m going to try to articulate that tomorrow in my speech,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable collection of guys, not just players but men, and to have my number up there next to those guys, it’s hard to search for the right words how much that means to me. I might get choked up a little bit tomorrow but I’m going to try to hold it together the best I can.”

There is no doubt Mauer belongs in such company. He retired as the Twins’ leader in doubles (479) and second to Puckett in hits (2,123) and Killebrew in walks (939). He’s the only catcher to win three batting titles, and his 2009 AL MVP season might be the best by a catcher in baseball history — .365 batting average, 28 home runs, 96 RBIs and a 1.031 OPS. He was a six-time all-star and won three Gold Gloves.

On Friday afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz declared Saturday to be Joe Mauer Day in Minnesota.

“It’s just humbling, you know?” he said. “I’m excited, I’m nervous — all sorts of emotions.”

The reality is, Mauer didn’t piggyback the charity event on his jersey retirement, it was the other way around. The field day was already scheduled, and Mauer picked this weekend for the ceremony because it would get even more former teammates on the field with the Gillette kids and their families.

“Any time I can talk Gillette and spread the word, I’m happy to do that,” Mauer said.

But this time wasn’t just any time.

Well played, Mauer.