Mauer maintains healthy attitude about first base
Former All-Star catcher making transition in 2014 with concussions in mind
MINNEAPOLIS -- The move to first base is still sinking in for Joe Mauer.
Mauer, holding court with reporters for 20 minutes on Saturday, admitted that it's been a little strange hearing, 'first baseman,' before his name while at TwinsFest this weekend, but that he's starting to get used to it now with Spring Training fast approaching.
"Seeing the name tag at my signing booth with '1B' next to it is a little different," Mauer said with a laugh. "But interacting with fans, and they're excited, it makes me excited, too."
Mauer, 30, sustained a season-ending concussion on a foul tip while catching on Aug. 19, and after consulting with Twins management, team doctors, doctors from the Mayo Clinic and his family, he made the decision in November to leave behind his catching mitt forever.
Mauer has maintained it wasn't a difficult decision because of the health risks associated with concussions and the increased likelihood of sustaining one while catching, but the six-time All-Star said he'll definitely miss catching.
"It wasn't a tough decision, but it was just because I love to catch and I've put in so much work to become the catcher that I was," Mauer said. "I think I kept visiting different doctors hoping that somebody would tell that it was OK to get back behind there."
Mauer added that his new role as a father made the decision even easier, as his wife, Maddie, gave birth to twins in late July. Maddie went along with him on all of his doctor visits, and Mauer kept his family in mind because of the inherent risks of sustaining more concussions while catching.
"She was in on everything and listening to the doctors and things like that," Mauer said. "They obviously care about me and want what's best for me. I'm a husband and father first."
Mauer also leaned on former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau for advice, as Morneau sustained a well-documented, season-ending concussion in July 2010. The concussion symptoms continued to plague Morneau the next season and nearly derailed his career, so Morneau gave Mauer frank advice this offseason.
"He actually told me, 'Joe, you need to move. It's just not worth it.'" Mauer said. "That's coming from a guy who experienced a lot of the things that I was going through. He was very supportive in that. He's thinking about me as a friend, not just as a teammate."
Mauer said the symptoms began to fully subside in November, and he's been able to get through his normal workouts without any issues. He added that's he adding a few new wrinkles to his workout routine now that he's not preparing for the rigors of catching every day.
"One thing I've been really making an effort to concentrate on is flexibility," Mauer said. "Catching for 10 years in the big leagues, and even before that, things start to tighten up a little bit. I've been making a lot of progress that way and feeling pretty good."
The Twins remain hopeful that the move will allow Mauer to play more this season, as Mauer won't need regular breaks from playing first base like he did while catching. Mauer's career high in games played is 147 set in '12, and, if healthy, he stands to surpass that figure in '14.
"I think I'm going to be able to write him in the lineup an awful lot this year, which we have to have," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's not saying that you can't get hurt at first base -- there's a lot that can happen over there -- but those foul tips and shots off your body, that's definitely something that's kind of hindered him a little bit and he's still hitting .330."
Gardenhire added that he still expects Mauer to occasionally sit in on the daily pitcher-catcher meetings, and will be a helpful tool for new addition Kurt Suzuki and youngster Josmil Pinto. Mauer said he's open to the idea and already talked to Suzuki about it during TwinsFest.
"I told him, 'I don't want to step on anybody's toes, but I'm here to win and if I can help, that's what I'm going to do.'" Mauer said. "He's here for the same reason so it's good. The guys we brought in are good players and they have the right mindset, too."
So for now, Mauer is enjoying his time with his teammates at TwinsFest and is excited for a new challenge this season with the move to first base.
"I want to be out there every day," Mauer said. "That was the case when I was a catcher but physically it's just not possible. I'm definitely looking forward to being on the field more. Hopefully that translates into a lot more wins."