Mauer prepares for first season at 1st base
By Mike Berardino
St. Paul Pioneer Press
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Twins legend Kent Hrbek rolled into town Tuesday, just in time to film a team-sponsored TV spot with T.C Bear and Joe Mauer.
Filming will take place today.
“I’m going to be farting around at first base with T.C. and Joe,” Hrbek said.
Even money says the spot will involve Hrbek teaching Mauer how to push an unsuspecting mascot off the bag.
When it comes to the rest of the intricacies involved with this much-discussed position change, Hrbek figures Mauer will do just fine.
“Joe is not going to have any problem over there,” Hrbek told the Pioneer Press. “If Joe wants to ask me a question, I can tell him, but he knows what he’s doing. I’ve seen him out there. This guy can pick it. You could stick Joe at short and he’d do good for you.”
Mauer did some light defensive work Tuesday, but that was just an appetizer for the “Good Morning America” sessions with former Twins manager Tom Kelly. Those figure to start Saturday with the first day of full-squad workouts.
No longer a sporadic respite from catching, first base is now Mauer’s job, as he noted again Tuesday in his first news conference of the spring.
“I’ve played (56) games there, but that’s just scratching the surface,” he said. “I kind of learned on the go. I look forward to focusing a lot of attention on that this spring. I’ll be on that short field with TK quite a bit. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Kelly isn’t expected to arrive until Friday, but both Hrbek and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stressed how valuable those sessions should be. Kelly will share his expertise on positioning, footwork, angles and the like.
“It’s not how much TK wants to, it’s how much Joe wants to do it,” Gardenhire said. “TK will be there every day. He’s as good as they get around the bag. That’s his passion. Joe’s already had a sampling of it. If Joe wants more, TK will give him more.”
Hall of Famer Rod Carew, another former Twins first baseman who could be a valuable resource, also arrived at Twins camp on Tuesday. Once the special assistants go home, new infield coach Paul Molitor and third-base coach Joe Vavra will be Mauer’s tutors.
In short, there’s no reason to believe Mauer can’t add to his collection of three Gold Gloves.
“We’re working towards it,” Mauer said. “Got a lot of work to do. I’m looking forward to trying to learn more about it and being the best that I can.”
In Hrbek’s estimation, Mauer’s best is more than good enough.
“Everybody knows Joe Mauer is a good athlete,” Hrbek said. “He’ll be able to play first base.”
What might be the most difficult part of the transition?
“There’s nothing difficult for Joe Mauer,” Hrbek said. “He’s a fantastic athlete, probably one of the better athletes in the stinkin’ game. The only thing he’s probably having a hard time with is his two kids at home.”
It’s worth noting here that Hrbek was vastly underrated as a defender after struggling early in his career. His career range factor per nine innings was above league average, and he ranked in the American League’s top five in that category for four straight seasons (1990-93), leading the AL in 1992.
So don’t get Hrbek started on this outdated idea that you can hide a poor defender at first.
“You’re busy,” he said. “You’re probably the third-busiest guy on the field. You have to know where to be. I kind of took it upon myself to be the captain of the infield over there when I was playing. You’re involved with every play pretty much. It’s not like a picnic over there.”
The Twins have been blessed over the years to have not just Hrbek and Carew at first base, but Justin Morneau and his predecessor, Doug Mientkiewicz. You can even go back to Harmon Killebrew, who spent a number of seasons at first, as well as Vic Power and Bob Allison (1964).
“Years ago they used to move the older guys to first,” Hrbek said. “They used to kind of hide guys over at first base, but I think it’s a whole different story now. You see guys over there that work at it. Great players.”
Hrbek said he once received “the best compliment ever” from former Boston Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans.
“Anybody can play first base,” Evans told him, “but I haven’t seen too many guys play it like you.”
Perhaps soon they’ll be saying that sort of thing about Mauer.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.