'Weird time' for Jake Mauer in his first post-managerial spring
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Now that Joe Mauer has gotten his Grapefruit League schedule under way, even banging out his first hit of the spring on Friday afternoon, the next major event will be his older brother's arrival.
Traditionally, Jake and Joe Mauer have been a package deal at Twins spring training. First, they arrived as fellow minor leaguers after being selected 22 rounds apart in the 2001 draft.
Later, that morphed into Joe being in big-league camp as a Rawlings Gold Glove catcher while Jake, a former University of St. Thomas infielder, first completed a minor-league career that stalled out at Double-A due to an elbow injury and later drew raves as a minor-league manager at multiple levels, most recently at Double-A Chattanooga.
This past offseason, however, with his three young children (Lauren, 9; Jake, 6; and Andy, 4) growing up fast back home, Jake Mauer decided he'd had enough after a decade of managing in the bushes. He informed the Twins he would not be returning in 2018 despite their strong desire that he stick with it.
On March 7, Jake Mauer will fly down with his family and spend a very different week at the CenturyLink Sports Complex. No longer charged with teaching and mentoring young ballplayers, he simply will be on hand to relax a bit and visit with so many of his former players, associates and friends.
"I've talked with him," Joe Mauer said. "It's a weird time for him right now. He's been getting ready to come down here for a long time."
There is only so much snow one can shovel off his driveway before he gets the itch to escape the cold and fly south. The annual renewal of spirit will carry special meaning for Jake Mauer this time, considering all the emotions he will face as he says his goodbyes in person after 17 straight Twins spring trainings in uniform.
"He's bringing the family down," Joe Mauer said. "We have our whole family that comes down, and I've told him over the years, 'Jake, you and I are the only ones working down here.' But now I'm the only one working down here. Everybody else is in vacation mode."
Usually there are a few golf matches between the two competitive brothers before things turn serious each spring. That should continue, although the hours will speed past before Jake Mauer must return to the Twin Cities to help run the family's auto dealerships.
Bringing his kids out to the park each day will provide a fresh dynamic, with Jake Mauer saying via text message that his children are "definitely looking forward to coming down" to spring training.
"It will be fun to have him down here," Joe Mauer said. "A lot of people have been asking how he's been doing and if he's going to come by. I think he's real excited to see everybody."
As Joe Mauer enters the eighth and final year of his $184 million mega-contract, he has been taking a few extra moments here and there to savor what could be his final spring in a Twins uniform. Roaming these grounds with his brother by his side should only add to the emotions.
"As I've gotten older, I've learned to do that," Joe Mauer said. "Not just this season but the last three or four. You appreciate the opportunity and you appreciate the people around you that give you that opportunity to come out here everyday. That's not lost on me. I enjoy coming to the ballpark and seeing some of the same faces I've been seeing for 17 years. That's pretty special."
Joe Mauer has been heartened by the tenor of the comments directed his way.
"It's been really nice," he said. "It's been a good camp. I know a lot of those articles came out about the future. I've had a lot of positive (exchanges) with fans saying they hope I stick around for awhile. That's always nice to hear. I'm enjoying right now."
As much as Jake Mauer, five years older at 39, has been enjoying his new life as well back home, could his younger brother see him getting back in the game after a break of a year or two or more? Maybe this time it would be as a roving instructor instead of a manager, although at multiple levels rival managers voted him the league's top managerial prospect in Baseball America's annual Best Tools survey.
"He loves it; I could see it later down the road," Joe Mauer said. "But right now it just made sense for him and his family to be home. Everybody's healthy. The kids are young, and he realized he just wanted to be home."
Joe Mauer, his twin daughters set to turn 5 in July, knows that ache a parent feels on his or her way out the door for an extended work trip.
"He'll be around the kids more; I kind of applaud him for that," Joe Mauer said. "Part of it is his kids are at an age where they couldn't come down the whole spring. They'd come down a week or so. I know he's enjoying being home and being around a lot more."