FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This is not a Joe Mauer contract story. This is another too-good-to-be-true story about why -- for the good of the Twins and for the good of baseball -- Mauer has to sign long-term with Minnesota.
You know all the obvious reasons. Mauer is a 26-year-old catcher, a three-time batting champion, a Gold Glove winner and the reigning Most Valuable Player of the American League. He could be the biggest free agent of all time. He is perhaps the most gifted, most natural athlete in the major leagues. He was an all-state basketball player, the No. 1-rated high school quarterback in America and the No. 1 pick in the country for baseball. And he did all this in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn., only a few miles from where the Twins play. His parents and grandparents go to his games. His best friends are his high school buddies.
This latest story speaks again to who he is, and why he is so important to the Twins. But before we tell it, juxtapose it with this story. Last year, another young major league star went to his team's FanFest, or whatever teams call it when fans can meet players in the offseason. The player clearly did not want to be there, it showed, and several times he was rude to fans, refusing to sign certain pieces of memorabilia. Twice, a veteran player had to remind him to be more polite to his team's fans.
This past Sunday, the Twins held their annual spring bowling tournament called "Twins And Pins," a charity event benefiting Habitat For Humanity. Mauer brought his own bowling ball to spring training. He planned on carrying it on the plane, but it didn't get through security because the X-ray equipment couldn't penetrate the ball, so he had to check it into baggage. "Twins And Pins" was held in a dingy little bowling alley behind a KFC in Fort Myers. It wasn't mandatory for Twins players to go to the event, but, of course, Mauer went. And, of course, he is a good bowler.
"You should have seen him, the perfect spin, in the pocket, the pins just exploded when the ball hit them," said the Twins' new second baseman Orlando Hudson. "He's a great bowler."
Typically for Mauer, he shrugged it off. It was no big deal that he rolled a 205.
The big deal is how he handled the event.
"Here he is, Joe Mauer, the face of the franchise," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He couldn't have been nicer. He had a smile on his face the whole night. And after he rolls another strike, he is high-fiving people that he just met that night at a bowling alley."
The bowling tournament came two days after the team's annual spring golf tournament, in which Twins players participate in a scramble foursome with three fans. Juxtapose that with the story of another team's annual tournament this spring, in which several players said they could only play nine holes, and one star player said, "I'm playing eight holes; you know, half." He had to be told that half of the holes would be nine holes, as in "the front nine."
Anyway, Mauer played in the tournament, and, naturally, his team won.
"Joe always wins in everything," said Mike Herman, the Twins' director of baseball communications. "On the 18th hole, he was bent over, holding his hands over his eyes, reading a putt like Tiger Woods and telling his teammates 'You need to putt it here.'"
That is Joe Mauer. Some stars of his magnitude wouldn't even play in such a tournament. He not only played all 18 -- not nine or eight holes -- but he wanted to win for teammates he'd just met.
"None of this surprises me," said Twins teammate Nick Punto. "He's an average Joe, but he's Joe Mauer, future Hall of Famer. He's like any guy that you would meet. Any great guy."
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.