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Backstory: Not your average Joe

Home-grown Twins star Joe Mauer is as humble as the fans who root him on. He even drinks milk.

By Jim KlobucharContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / September 1, 2006



MINNEAPOLIS

He drinks milk for breakfast, goes to chapel, talks respectfully to children, and can't quite fathom why some of the most famous baseball players in America stand mute in envy and wonder when he swings a bat.

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But it's not his batting average – which for more than two months has been the highest in Major League Baseball – that has woven a mythic aura around Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins this summer.

To understand the Mauer phenomenon, you need only scan the police blotters and crowded court calendars that compete seriously with box scores and bullpens as a reflection of the culture of big-time athletics today. In the midst of the tumult, here is Mauer, a young man performing his craft unpretentiously at the highest professional level, driving base hits, blocking wild pitches, and averting a tag with an unshowy aplomb.

He may be a once-in-a-generation athlete, instinctively at home in practically any athletic venue. But today he is one of the baseball sagas of the year and, incidentally, a mother's dream. He was, baseball people will tell you, "raised right." What impresses them beyond baseball are his civility and quiet but confident presence, clearly genuine in this 23-year-old bachelor who now appears on magazine covers and is already a millionaire.

If you want to go for the behavioral grand slam, add modesty – a character trait not especially rampant in the high-stakes clamor of professional athletics. While competing TV ads toast the jazzy quality of beer and sell the revitalizing power of testosterone additives, Mauer is seen almost daily in a commercial promoting the unbeatable quality of Minnesota's Land O' Lakes milk.

This is no PR scam. Joe drank it as a kid in St. Paul and still does. One of the popular Mauer commercials on local television spoofs his four-inch sideburns and creates a postgame dialogue with an 11-year-old boy, reminiscent of an old feel-good commercial involving football's Mean Joe Greene. In this one Mauer seems to be ignoring the boy, then reconsiders and happily gives him a set of stick-on sideburns, like his own authentic ones. The aftermath of the commercial says more about Mauer than the commercial. In real life the kid told his friends how this big league baseball player had actually come to him before the taping and introduced himself. Later he invited the boy into the Twins' dugout and gave him a signed bat.

A new American Idol? Perhaps not yet. Home runs produce idols faster than .350 batting averages. And while he is an all-fields hitter, strong and disciplined at 6 feet, 4 inches, Mauer is not especially beguiled by the fences. By late August he had hit only 10 home runs. But his team, transformed by midseason lineup changes emphasizing speed, is challenging for the playoffs and it was Mauer's midseason explosion of base hits that lit the fuse, along with the home runs of Justin Morneau, his Canadian roommate, and in-depth pitching.

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