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Twins begin life without Joe Mauer

Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) reacts to a standing ovation in the ninth inning against Chicago White Sox at Target Field on Sept. 30. For the first time in 18 years, Mauer will not be with the Twins at spring training. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Spring training is underway for the Twins. Pitchers and catchers started reporting early this week, and on Monday, Feb. 18, the team will hold its first full-squad workout.

But for the first time in 18 years, Joe Mauer won’t be around the complex in Fort Myers, and the Twins will have to move on without the perennial all-star and 2009 American League MVP.

“It’ll be a little different when I see those guys out on the field,” Mauer said on Tuesday from Xcel Energy Center, where he was feted by the Wild prior to a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. “But I’m keeping busy.”

It will be different for teammates who had grown accustomed to Mauer occupy a corner locker in the spring training clubhouse at Hammond Stadium, where he first reported for spring training in 2002.

“It’ll be a little bit strange, I’m sure, for a lot of people, in terms of what he’s meant here for a really long time,” chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. “I would say that baseball’s got this unbelievable ability to move forward and always does. There have been great players before, and there will be great players in the future.”

Mauer’s absence is likely to become more pronounced as full-squad workouts and games get underway without him this week.

“I think the thing we’ll miss with Joe is just his overall demeanor and his approach to spring training, the way he goes about preparation, things like that,” Falvey said. “I always just enjoyed watching that. He was just so steady in the way he approached spring training.

“I think it’ll be probably strange the first few games and otherwise, when he’s not somewhere out there in the lineup somewhere.”

With Mauer and other long-tenured Twins such as Brian Dozier, no longer around, the clubhouse has a different feel. The team has gotten younger, and it will look to others to fill that leadership void instead. There won’t be a dearth of veterans, either. Catcher Jason Castro returns, and the Twins signed sluggers Nelson Cruz and Lucas Duda to offseason deals.

“All those guys have been around and have a lot of experience,” said starter Kyle Gibson, now the longest-tenured Twins player. “Nelson’s going to bring a really good veteran leadership that is hopefully going to fill some of Joe’s void, if not all of it.

“But Joe was a personality and a professional; that’s going to be hard to replace. He’s Joe Mauer, right?”

When the Twins brought in Cruz, the front office talked about his leadership ability and how that might benefit a young roster.

Cruz, 38, will step in as one of the team’s veteran presences. He has credited Michael Young, his former Rangers teammate, for helping him learn how to be a big-leaguer. The Twins will look for him to pass that along to younger players, including fellow Dominican Miguel Sano, the third baseman who told Cruz this past offseason that he wanted to “learn how to be part of good teams.”

“I’m a big believer that leaders don’t just thrust themselves onto that role,” Gibson said. “You’re a leader when guys come to you and ask for things, how you lead by example and how you are as a professional.

“Definitely, I can go take (Stephen) Gonsalves or Kohl Stewart under my wing, but trying to lead a team meeting or be the enforcer on certain things, it’s not necessarily a good self-appointed role.”

Leaders in the clubhouse will emerge. The Twins will move forward, as teams do. Mauer will move forward, too. His third child, Charles Joseph, was born this offseason, an addition that keeps him plenty busy.

Now, he said, is time to “be a dad” and take time to figure out his next move.

“I’m in a good place and really happy,” Mauer said Tuesday. “My 18 years has gone by really fast. I never took anything for granted. Really enjoyed it. Now it’s fun to look back and savor some of those moments.”

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