CEDAR RAPIDS – It won't be long before Jake Mauer is working his normal offseason job back home in the Twin Cities. He helps run the sales floor at Mauer Chevrolet, the dealership his brother, Billy, co-owns in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
Of course, Jake Mauer hopes he has another week and a half in Cedar Rapids first because that would assure his Cedar Rapids Kernels have made the Midwest League championship series. The Kernels begin what they hope is a long playoff push Wednesday night with Game 1 of their first-round, best-of-three series against the Quad Cities River Bandits.
The opener is 7:05 at Davenport's Modern Woodmen Park. Games 2 and 3, if necessary, are back at Veterans Memorial Stadium, with 6:35 first pitches.
"We've had a really good season to this point. It's been a lot of fun," Jake Mauer said. "We've had a lot of faces, I think we only have six guys left from opening day. The guys that have come up have integrated in the clubhouse great. That chemistry is still good. Winning probably helps with that, but those guys that have come up here expect in games that we're going to be in it and we're going to have a chance. That gets infectious. We are really proud of our guys. Absolutely. They've done a great job."
And Mauer and his staff (pitching coach Gary Lucas and hitting coach Tommy Watkins) have done a great job developing players and winning baseball games.
The Kernels finished the regular season with an 88-50 record, the second-most victories in club history. Mauer was named the top managing prospect in the 16-team MWL in a late-season story in Baseball America magazine.
The 34-year-old received what some may have been perceived a demotion when he was assigned to lead the Kernels this season, after three previous years at high-Class A Fort Myers. But there's no doubting that "Joe Mauer's oldest brother" has shown some serious managing chops.
"I wouldn't say I was discouraged (by coming to Cedar Rapids)," Mauer said. "I was excited because I had an idea who we were going to get (player wise) ... The move closer to home was good for me. I knew about the facility, I knew a little bit about the folks here. But I didn't realize how big baseball is here. The support we have gotten from the people in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding areas has been outstanding. They've really made us feel comfortable and welcomed. I think that really helped out on the field."
Mauer managed two years of Rookie ball prior to going to the Florida State League, so this was a level and league he only had familiarity with as a player. There was a difference, he said.
"You try to keep the same approach," he said. "You're still teaching every day. Here, there aren't as many bad habits to break. I don't want to say guys are more open, but they're not quite as set in their ways. It's a little easier to (help them) make adjustments. I think it happens here a little quicker than at other levels. You know, that old saying about how you can't teach old dogs new tricks."
Mauer ticked off the names of Kernels players who have improved this season, including unheralded guys like infielder Joel Licon, catcher-infielder Tyler Grimes and outfielder Jeremias Pineda. He said he thinks outfielder Jonathan Murphy has begun putting his name "on the map a little bit" as a possible Twins prospect.
He lauded the work of Lucas and Watkins, whom he has known for years. In fact, Watkins was a groomsman in Mauer's wedding.
"We've had good chemistry as a coaching staff," he said. "Obviously I've got a personal relationship with those guys, Tommy and Luke. Ryan Hedwall, our trainer, I've been around for five years. Luke, I've known for over 10, Tommy, I've known for over 15. It's been good. We mesh well together, and I think the players feed off that. We try not to get too high or too low. We get excited some times, and that's all right. But as long as we keep going at it, play the game the way it needs to be played, we'll be all right."
It seems Jake Mauer will be all right, too. He was asked if has any idea where he'll wind up managing next season.
"I hope I'm in Minnesota," he said, with a laugh. "You know, I'll be 35 next year. It'll be my eighth year, if they want to keep me as manager ... There are still a lot of things I need to get better at and continue to improve on. I learn something new every day. Something always surprises you.
"It's really just keeping a positive attitude. There are going to be times this game will kick you in the butt. Everybody goes through it. You just work through it, work through it. As long as you respect the game, things will work out for you."
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