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Korby's connections: Minnesota boy makes the Hall

Like me, I think most of Minnesota and its baseball fans were glad to see Twins catcher Joe Mauer inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Only two other catchers, Johnny Bench and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez, were also elected in their first year of eligibility. Requirements are such that candidates must be out of baseball for five years and have at least 10 years of playing time to be considered for HOF enshrinement. Mauer is only 40 years old and is now the youngest member of the Hall. At 92, Willie Mays is the oldest living ball player in Cooperstown.

Mauer went to high school at St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall, a private Catholic school. He was the high school Gatorade Player of the Year in both baseball and football. An exceptional quarterback, Mauer had considered playing football in college at Florida State for coach Bob Bowden. He was also a 6-foot-5 shooting guard on the basketball team and averaged over 20 points a game his senior year. But the Twins made him the first overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, so Mauer elected to follow his first dream choice and play baseball. No doubt, he is one of the finest overall athletes in Minnesota history.

Mauer’s talent was remarkable and his major league baseball resume was equally impressive. As a catcher, he won three batting titles, a record. He also won an MVP award in 2009, when he batted a major-league-leading .365. In addition, Mauer has five Silver Slugger awards (highest average of all catchers), and three Gold Gloves (awarded to the best fielding catcher in the American League). Somewhat unusual in today’s market, he spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins. An established player at the time, he was, undoubtedly, a contributing factor in Minnesota building the new outdoor stadium, Target Field, in 2010.

Even though Mauer donned the “tools of ignorance” — i.e., the protective helmet and mask, shin guards, and chest protector worn by catchers — after 10 years of catching in the big leagues and suffering a concussion and recurring symptoms, he moved to playing first base.

When I played as a high school baseball catcher, of course I used all that equipment. I was surprised when I started playing fastpitch softball in the Carlton County league that many great catchers — such as Gerry Pollard from Cloquet — did not wear shin guards or a chest protector. That’s tough, because the name “softball” is a misnomer. The ball is every bit as hard as a baseball. In today’s high school and collegiate fastpitch, women pitchers are required to wear face masks. I wonder how many concussions there were at the old Blackhoof Valley and other fields in the 1960s and 1970s that went undetected.

Joe Mauer is tall, unusual for a catcher. He took a beating behind the plate from foul balls coming off hitters’ bats and blocking pitches in the dirt. Undoubtedly, he made the right move going to play first base.

Of course, Cloquet and Carlton County have had various athletes inducted into Minnesota, regional and national halls of fame, with Jamie Langenbrunner most recently picked for the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Read what local experts told Korby about the Mauer news on Page 8.

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