ST. PAUL — It was a nice coup when Adam and Caitlyn Thielen got Joe Mauer to participate in Monday’s charity event, a celebrity softball game that was part of the festivities surrounding Tuesday’s American Association All-Star Game at CHS Field. Retired for less than a year, Mauer hadn’t picked up a bat in front of fans since retiring from the Minnesota Twins in September.
Still, that was somehow less interesting than the fact that until July 22, Mauer had never played softball before. Ever.
He played football, baseball and basketball at Cretin-Derham Hall, accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at Florida State and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 major league amateur draft. He won three American League batting titles. Yet for one night at CHS Field, Joe Mauer was a rookie.
“I guess there’s a first time for everything,” he said as players arrived before a game won handily by the professional athletes.
Mauer unzipped a gym bag and pulled out the first baseman’s glove he used for the last five of his 15 years with the Twins, dark brown with his name sewn across the thumb with red thread.
“This was the only glove I really had,” he said. “This will work, right?”
Yeah, that’ll work.
Mauer played first and went 3 for 3 with three singles and a double — your didn’t-hit-a-home run joke here — for a team of big-name celebrities that eked out a victory over a team of radio, TV and newspaper types before the AA home run derby. The score was 20-something to seven, although the game was closer than the score would indicate.
Across the river, the Twins were holding on to an increasingly tenuous AL Central lead against the arch-nemesis New York Yankees, but in St. Paul there was history being made. Joe Mauer was making his softball debut.
Vikings Thielen, Anthony Harris and Kyle Rudolph are NFL players but certainly, at some point, they played flag or two-hand touch. Alex Stalock, the Wild goaltender who hit the longest homer of the night, is an NHL player but certainly must have played broomball or tennis ball hockey while growing up in South St. Paul.
No such facsimiles for Mauer, who made his softball debut at age 36. This is an astonishing achievement for an American male, although once the novelty wears off you think, “Of course he’s never played softball. He’s never had to.” People generally play softball because they can’t play baseball for reasons of logistics and/or skill.
Hell, once he was drafted by the Twins at age 18, Mauer might have been told not to play anything but baseball.
Those who were there will be glad to know that Mauer looked at three pitches, one thrown behind him, before lacing a hard single past the first baseman in his first at-bat. Likewise, he took the first pitch in a second plate appearance that ended the same way the first did. One got the feeling he was trying not to show anyone up.
Who knows if Mauer drove anyone in; after a while, it was a conga line on the base paths for the victors. He definitely did score three runs, each time after a home run, the last time after hitting a hard grounder all the way to the wall in right-center on the first pitch he saw.
And as he crossed home plate, he made sure the catcher knew it.
Referring to Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters, Mauer said, "Tell Shooter I swung at the first pitch.