One Small Step For Mauer

The Redeemer lives!

Yeah, that’s a little too close to sacrilege for my taste, but I couldn’t resist.

This is what happens when it’s a slow news day over at Target Field. After a workout Friday, Joe Mauer called a little bit of an impromptu news conference to set the public record straight about his health, both physical and mental, and his plans for leading the Twins on the road back to relevancy. The next thing you know, the social media sites are buzzing all over the place!

Then, over the course of the afternoon and evening, reporters from various media outlets posted quotes from St. Joe. Here are a few samples culled from articles authored by LaVelle E. Neal III at the Star-Tribune and John Shipley at the Pioneer-Press and Rhett Bollinger of and Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPNRadio.

“Here I am. I’m healthy. I’m happy,” Mauer said. “I can rule out crazy things I’ve heard like Lyme disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus. I think we’ve heard it all. I don’t have any of those things.”

“I’m getting really excited for next season,” he said. “I’ve recovered from pneumonia. I think you might be able to tell I’ve got my weight back. I’ve been working out for a couple of weeks. … Everything looks good, and I should be ready to go Day 1 of camp.”

In response to a question about whether it bothered him that some people considered him “soft” and questioned his willingness to play through injuries, Mauer responded: “At times. I think what surprised me a lot was a couple things out there questioning my work ethic, and that bugged me a little bit because I think guys who have been around know how hard I work and how much time I put into what I do,” he said. “So that’s one thing that frustrated me a little bit.”

“I don’t think anybody took it harder than me,” Mauer said of 2011. “That’s the thing. I was not a happy person last year. I was angry. I was frustrated, ultimately because I couldn’t get out on the field and help my team. It’s not a fun feeling coming to the park knowing you’re not feeling good and that you’re trying to battle every day doing the best you can.”

“I don’t think anyone has higher expectations than myself,” Mauer said. “Obviously my biggest goal coming into 2012 is just to stay healthy. I think when I’m on the field things will take care of itself.”

He said he would have done many things differently. Primarily, he said, he should have been more forthcoming about what he was going through.

“I just feel that, and I’ve told people in the organization this, if I’m not out there playing, the fans should know why,” he said. “People are going to have their own opinions, and you can’t control that. As long as the organization, my family, my friends and the fans know what’s going on, that’s what’s important to me. You can’t control what someone thinks.”

“I think the biggest thing is how often we’ve been winning,” he said. “We’ve been in the playoffs quite a bit since I’ve been here. Yeah, people look at (my salary) and things like that, and, like I said, you can’t worry about what people think.

“People are going to have their own opinions, but I think why people were so frustrated last year is that we’ve been to the playoffs quite a bit the last few years, and we weren’t a playoff team last year.”

Mauer said he accepts his role as a team leader, and toward that end has been in touch with free agent Michael Cuddyer about re-signing with the team. He’s checked in with Denard Span, who told him he’s feeling good after missing a large part of last season because of postconcussion syndrome. He had dinner last week with Justin Morneau.

“I told Terry and everybody here that I’m here to do everything I can to help out,” Mauer said. “I want to be part of the solution that gets us back to where we need to get to.”

“I’m excited,” he said. “I feel good. Just getting after it in the gym. Once January comes around, more baseball activities. Throwing hitting, things like that. And it’s exciting.”

“I think, obviously, getting guys healthy will help,” Mauer said. “Having a Justin Morneau, having a Denard Span and myself, those are three pretty good players right there. Seeing [closer Joe] Nathan go, I mean that’s a great player right there, too, and a great guy. What we have in this clubhouse, I mean, it’s not a 99-loss team. I can tell you that right now.”

Despite his comments to the contrary, I think it’s pretty clear that Mauer DOES care what people say and think about him. And he should, if for no other reason than you don’t see a lot of athletes with a “soft” reputation getting big money for endorsements. That’s not the image Gatorade wants to be associated with.

I know I’ve been a bit rough on Joe Mauer myself at times (arguably, as recently as the post on Thursday), but my take on his comments is that they reflect a step… perhaps a small step… in the right direction by Mauer.

In short, he’s doing the things we should want him doing. He’s talking straight about how disappointing 2011 was for the team and for him personally and how he should have done things differently, starting with being more forthcoming about his health and injury situations. He’s getting his health in order. He’s getting his weight and strength built up. He even appears to be ready and willing to step up and help the organization recruit free agents, whether their own, such as Cuddyer, or any others that Terry Ryan may be trying to bring in.

In other words, he appears to be stepping up the way you’d like to see a team leader do. I’d say he did well on Friday.

I don’t think that comes particularly natural to Mauer and maybe that’s why I found his effort Friday to be encouraging. He seemed to be recognizing that he needed to step outside his comfort zone.

Here’s hoping we see more of this kind of leadership and accountability from him as the 2012 season draws nearer.

– JC