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Witnesses to Joe Mauer farewell not convinced it’s over

October 2, 2018

Absent some memorable postseason heroics and sorry to say, that category hasnt applied in Minnesota for decades there could hardly be a better, more sentimental goodbye for a longtime ballplayer than the heartwarming spectacle of Joe Mauer crouching behind the plate Sunday.

But what if it wasnt goodbye? One prominent observer of the Twins hometown hero believes it would be a mistake for Mauer to walk away at the tender young age of 35. Of course, he might be biased.

I think hes still got more, I really do, said Jake Mauer, father of Sundays honoree. He can still hit and play pretty good defense. Well see.

Joe Mauer has said he realizes that making such a drastic decision while still winding down from the grind of 162 games and the disappointment of yet another season spent miles from a pennant race would be a mistake. So even as he acted all Lou Gehrig on Sunday, thanking the fans and his teammates and shedding a few tears on the field, he still reserved the right to go Bartolo Colon on his career.

I want to give myself some time to decompress and really make a good decision, he said Sunday, still occasionally choking up as he spoke. Emotions are all over the place. I just want to give myself the chance to step away for a second.

He has plenty of elements to consider. A year ago, the Twins qualified for the postseason, albeit a very brief one commensurate with their not-exactly-dominant 85-77 record, and Mauer enjoyed a renaissance season, his best since concussions bruised his brain and his career. No wonder he flatly stated a week before spring training opened that Id like to keep going. I really enjoy playing this game, and Id like to keep doing that as long as I can.

But as September dawned, Mauer was reminded of those words. His reply: A lot can change in six months.

And you only had to look around the clubhouse to see his point. The Twins were a wreck, with projected stars Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano lost to injury and ineffectiveness, and the Indians several laps ahead in the standings. Some of his closest friends, Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar, had been traded, and many of his new young teammates were strangers.

Worst of all, Mauers rejuvenation seemed a one-year blip. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage each declined by about 30 points; he started only 85 games at first base, and his WAR of 1.5 (down from 3.4 a year ago) ranked just 11th on the team. Most alarming, he suffered another concussion and missed a month.

That doesnt mean he has nothing to offer, though. He still takes the best at-bats on the team, Twins manager Paul Molitor said. The ability to work a count and to be comfortable hitting with two strikes, the ability to spoil pitches until you get one you can handle hes a professional hitter.

Even that ability showed signs of erosion this year, though; Mauer batted only .215 with two strikes, and his two-strike on-base percentage was a career-low .265.

Still, though, Molitor said he has no doubt that Mauer can be a contributor to a winner next year, and itll be a huge difference for any manager to lose a player and a person like that. I told the players [Saturday], Weve all learned something from Joe Mauer. It might be different, person to person, player to player, but he teaches life lessons by the way he lives.

The Twins never meant for Sundays farewell-ish moments to shove him out the door, bench coach Derek Shelton said. Its up to him, and I really hope he comes back. Hes not done. He doesnt have to be retired if he doesnt want to be, and we talked about that when they planned his sentimental one-pitch return to catching, Shelton said. Next year, we plan to play meaningful games in September. If hes part of it, thats great. If not, this was one hell of a sendoff.

Baseball reporters Phil Miller and La Velle E. Neal III will alternate weeks. phil.miller@startribune.com Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins

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