CEDAR RAPIDS — Joe Mauer will be paid $23 million this year to play baseball, so he should be an ambassador for his game.
You make that kind of coin, you should be ambassador, prince, duke and earl of your sport.
But that doesn’t mean every major-leaguer in the salary stratosphere would spend time during a rehabilitation assignment in the low minors signing a bunch of autographs for their loyal subjects. Many a big-leaguer would come down to the farm, get in his work, and get the heck back to the bigs with as little fuss and human contact as possible.
So a tip of the ball cap to Minnesota Twins star Mauer, who signed a lot of autographs for adults and kids who waited patiently in a line — a long line — over two hours before the first pitch of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers-Cedar Rapids Kernels game Tuesday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The parent Minnesota Twins surely wanted their guy to make a good impression here and keep their Midwest League affiliate happy as well as many past and future Target Field customers from the south. But you can be a token nice-guy or you can take a little extra time and make many more people pleased. Mauer took the extra time.
“He’s a (future) Hall of Famer,” said Dan Houser of Lone Tree, who brought his son, Bryce, with him to the ballpark. “To meet a Hall of Famer is pretty special.”
Colton Wood of North Liberty is a 13-year-old with his last name stitched over Mauer’s No. 7 on the back of a Twins jersey that Mauer signed. That jersey probably now goes into retirement.
“He’s had that No. 7 since he was a little kid,” said Colton’s dad, Chad Wood.
The boy also now has a photo of Mauer on a canvas that the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player autographed. Colton and his 8-year-old sister, Kenadi, seemed to think that was a pretty good deal.
“Kernels games are great,” Chad Wood said. “We were excited when we heard he was coming here. We don’t get that option around here very often.”
The stadium parking lot was full of cars that were from beyond Linn County. Included was one belonging to Josh Gardner of Des Moines, an Iowa Cubs season ticket-holder who brought his 5-year-old baseball-loving son, Memphis.
“Minor league stadiums are more intimate,” Gardner said. “I don’t think any major-league stadium would have an autograph line for Mauer.”
Before the game, Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson said he expected a crowd of 4,000 to 4,500, “at least double what it would normally be for a Tuesday night.”
He can thank Mauer’s strained right oblique for that. His July pain turned out to be the Kernels’ August gain.
“I’m anxious, yeah,” Mauer said after batting practice. “I’m not too concerned about results right now. Just so I feel good and see the baseball.”
The ballplayer will play here again Wednesday night, and perhaps through the week. Then he’ll head back to the land of first-class jet seating and five-star hotels.
But all a lot of young and older Twins fans will care about is that the big star didn’t big-time them while he made a detour to here in the bushes.
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