It had been a seemingly endless day of talking baseball for Joe Mauer.
All the hoopla was certainly understandable surrounding the Minnesota Twins catcher, who in early November of 2009, was announced as the American League’s Most Valuable Player. In the depths of the now-deflated and non-existent Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, the St. Paul native fielded scores of questions about his baseball heroics during the just-concluded season. He accepted the accolades with grace and credited virtually everyone in the Twins’ organization and his family for his success. He smiled, some would say sheepishly, for the cameras that flashed and clicked at a ferocious pace.
Being at the forefront of media attention has never been Mauer’s forte. While he was accepting of media requests throughout his career, he seemed to enjoy it as much as an uncomfortable collar and snug tie.
Waiting patiently for Mauer to finish his baseball interviews was a veteran reporter from Mauer’s hometown newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press. This award-winning reporter wasn’t there to talk baseball. He wanted to visit with Mauer, even if it was just a quick stroll through the dank corridors of the Metrodome, to discuss his high school days. You see, later that week, Mauer’s alma mater, Cretin-Derham Hall, a private Catholic school in St. Paul, was playing powerhouse Eden Prairie in the Minnesota State High School League’s football playoffs on the same indoor carpet at the Metrodome where Mauer made it his playground with high school and professional heroics.
In 1999, Mauer quarterbacked Cretin-Derham Hall to a Class AAAAA football championship at the Metrodome. The following season, Eden Prairie and Cretin-Derham Hall met for the bigschool crown, but Mauer and his teammates did not repeat as state champions.
Mauer spotted the reporter, beamed, and with a firm handshake, used the preface of “Mr.,” before quickly engaging in conversation. While Mauer was on his way to do national radio interviews, he relished the opportunity to take a break from baseball chatter to visit about part of his high school journey. He enjoyed talking about the football rivalry between Cretin-Derham Hall and Eden Prairie, and even revealed that in that 2000 matchup, he separated his shoulder on the first possession after getting sacked. He kept the injury to himself and played on in Eden Prairie’s eventual 24-14 victory.
Mauer’s greatest revelation on this day had nothing to do with on-court or on-field heroics. Nor did it have to do with championships or being a prized recruit. He was asked simply, “What do you treasure most about your high school journey?” His response was simple, yet incredibly powerful:
“The bus rides and the pizza parties,” he said, without hesitation.
Mauer cherished the bus rides to and from games, he said, because it was protected time, a time for sacred moments where he could laugh and carry on with teammates and friends, away from the media members who were constantly following the life of a prized recruit. As for those pizza parties?
“I loved them,” he said. “There was nothing quite like a pizza party after Friday Night Lights. I really do miss that.”
Mauer was a Division I recruit in football, basketball and baseball. He gave a verbal commitment to play football at Florida State University, but instead, began his professional baseball career after being selected with the top pick by the Minnesota Twins in MLB’s Amateur Draft in 2001. He played three seasons in the minor leagues before joining the Twins in 2004.
In 15 seasons with the Twins, he was a six-time all-star, a three-time American League batting champion and a three-time Gold Glove award winner. He emotionally retired following the 2018 season.
“We all know how good he was on the field and what he accomplished,” said Jim O’Neill, Mauer’s baseball coach at Cretin-Derham Hall. “He was just so much more than that. Being a part of the teams, the school and the community was so much above that. He understood the big picture as a young man and carried that through his professional career.”
JOE MAUER: Did you know?
Tim Leighton is communications coordinator for the Minnesota State High School League, and he is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.