The circumstances aren’t exactly the same, but the similarities can’t be denied. Over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins have been honoring the career of a local boy who made good in a big way with his hometown team.
Former Twins catcher and first baseman Joe Mauer made himself synonymous with the franchise and the region. He starred for the club from 2004-18.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon can appreciate that experience as well as anyone. Not only has Gordon followed a similar path, but he’s one of the few current Royals who played against Mauer in the prime of Mauer’s career.
“I always joke around with him and tell him that he won me a Gold Glove in left field,” Gordon said. “Because whenever we faced him, I knew I was getting four or five hard balls — lasers — hit right at me that I had to make good plays on.”
Gordon, wearing a shirt soaked with sweat from taking swings in the batting cage, sat perched with his back against the wall of the visiting dugout on Saturday as fans filed into the ballpark prior to Joe Mauer Night at Target Field.
The Twins retired Mauer’s jersey No. 7 in a pregame ceremony on Saturday, one night after Minnesota’s governor read a proclamation prior to Friday’s game which made Saturday Joe Mauer Day across the state.
The ceremony included former Twins players and front-office personnel in attendance, the families of legendary former twins players, and video messages from former manager Ron Gardenhire and some of the best current players in the majors such as Albert Pujols, Buster Posey as well as recently retired Ichiro Suzuki.
The Twins drafted Mauer, a former St. Paul area high school phenom, first overall in 2001. He played 15 seasons with the Twins and batted .306 with 2,223 hits, 428 doubles, 143 home runs, 923 RBIs and 1,018 runs scored. He won the American League MVP in 2009, made six AL All-Star teams, won five Silver Slugger awards and three Gold Gloves as a catcher (2008-2010).
“If I ever wanted to teach a left-handed hitter the perfect swing, it would be Joe Mauer’s,” Gordon said. “It was just mechanically perfect, quiet. Driving the ball the other way, he made it look easy. It was a privilege watching him in the minor leagues and then actually getting to play against him and finding out what a great guy he was.”
Gordon has one season left on his current contract with the Royals but appears poised to play at least one more season after an offensive resurgence this season.
A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, about three and a half hours away from Kansas City, Gordon has spent his entire career as a member of the Royals organization, and he’s said he’d like to retire having spent his entire career with one club, as did Mauer.
The collegiate national player of the year as a junior and the No. 2 overall pick of the Royals in 2005, Gordon has enjoyed a decorated career in the same region where he grew up.
Gordon, also a left-handed hitter, has won six Gold Glove awards, one Platinum Glove award, is a three-time Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award winner, made three AL All-Star teams and was part of a World Series championship in 2015.
“It’s a privilege just to be close to home, close to family,” Gordon said. “Besides having the ticket requests all the time, it’s great. Just being with your family that can always come watch you. Obviously, mine is a little bit farther than Joe’s, but it’s definitely been an honor and a privilege to be close to home and play for the team you grew up watching and admiring.”
Gordon reiterated that he’d like to be one of those players who spent his career in one organization’s uniform, but he downplayed it being a rare occurrence in today’s game. He pointed to Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia and Mauer as examples of guys who’ve had long and successful careers for one franchise.
Gordon’s manager, Ned Yost began his association with the majors as a player back in 1980 and went on to be a coach and a manager. Yost expressed awe at what players like Mauer and Gordon have done.
“It’s always been rare,” Yost said. “For Robin Yount to do it was unbelievable. Paul Molitor couldn’t do it. For Chipper Jones to do it, nobody else could. It’s just a very rare occurrence. Alex is probably going to do it.
“It’s very rare that it works out in that fashion, that you’re just here. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a hometown deal where I’m going to stay here and take less. (Mauer) made a lot of money, but it was his home. They love him here. A big part of his legacy is here and what he’s done off the field too.”