They were All-Star teammates as high school seniors in Minnesota. A year ago, they were All-Star teammates for the American League.
It would be perfect, right?
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer and closer Glen Perkins together again, representing their hometown team in their hometown All-Star Game at Target Field.
That’s the way the story should unfold, but baseball has a way of flipping the script, sometimes in cruel fashion.
Mauer, a four-time elected starter at catcher and six-time selection overall, appears a long shot to crack the AL roster at his new position, first base.
Perkins, who was named to his first All-Star team as an injury replacement last season, faces intense competition among AL relievers.
The Twins’ most likely All-Star is Brian Dozier, who leads the AL in runs and ranks among the league leaders in OPS at second base. Catcher Kurt Suzuki also is a viable candidate. But the Twins, who own the sixth-worst record in the AL, might not get more than one selection.
“It’s been hard,” Perkins said, referring to the pressure of trying to make the team as a hometown All-Star. “Last year, getting to go, was awesome. It was an experience I’ll never forget. The coincidence of it being at our field this year has been hard to put on the back burner.
“Knowing that if you make one, you have a better chance to make another, it’s been difficult. I’ve handled it about as well as I could. But it’s always been in the back of my mind.”
Mauer, 31, is in an even more uncomfortable position; Major League Baseball named him its All-Star Ambassador in April, effectively making him the ceremonial host for the event.
Imagine Mauer glad-handing his way through FanFest while enduring the disappointment of failing to make the All-Star team and struggling through the first half.
He will do it, of course. He’s Joe Mauer, ever gracious, ever classy. And, as a native of St. Paul, he’s genuinely excited about the ASG coming to the Twin Cities.
“It’s hard to deal with, All-Star Game or not,” said Mauer, who has gotten hot in the past week but still is batting only .270 with a .680 OPS, far below his career norms. “This game is very humbling. Everyone will tell you, it’s not easy. I don’t know if I made it look easy in the past and people expect a whole lot. But I expect a lot of myself.
“If you feel like you’re working hard and doing the things you need to be doing and not having results, it’s frustrating. I’ve just got to stick with the plan, and hopefully things turn around.”
Chances are, they will; Mauer didn’t simply forget how to hit. His move from catcher to first base — the result of a concussion that prevented him from playing after Aug. 19 last season — is proving to be a bigger adjustment than anticipated.
Mauer told Twins manager Ron Gardenhire that he benefited offensively as a catcher from “tracking” pitches from pitchers before ever hitting in a game. He also said that he has needed to condition himself differently, working on his legs in the weight room because he no longer is squatting on every pitch.
Gardenhire said he will “be shocked” if Mauer does not revive and hit .300 for the season. But for now, Mauer is a first baseman with two home runs in 285 at-bats, a first baseman who ranks ninth in the AL in OPS at his position.
The Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion, Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and White Sox’s Jose Abreu are superior candidates at first. The Orioles’ Nelson Cruz, Tigers’ Victor Martinez and Red Sox’s David Ortiz are more obvious choices at DH.
“It’s never a guarantee being invited to an All-Star Game,” Mauer said. “I think maybe people forget how hard it is to make one. There are a lot of guys every year who are having great years and deserve to be there but don’t go.”
Perkins, 31, could end up in that very position.
He ranks third in the AL with 19 saves (in 22 chances). He has struck out 42 and walked only six in 32 1/3 innings. But a number of other AL relievers are enjoying even better seasons.
Is Perkins more deserving than the Athletics’ Sean Doolittle, Red Sox’s Koji Uehara and Rangers’ Joakim Soria? The Royals’ Wade Davis, Yankees’ Dellin Betances and Rays’ Jake McGee? The list goes on as well.
Perkins, a native of Stillwater, Minn., said that he began carrying the hopes of his family and friends when he was drafted and that he is accustomed to “fulfilling other people’s expectations, people who are living vicariously through me.”
The pressure to make the All-Star team, he said, comes from within.
“It would be a dream come true,” he said. “That would be right there with anything else you could accomplish in baseball, growing up there and getting a chance to be on that field.”
The Twins selected Mauer out of St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall High School with the first pick of the 2001 draft. They chose Perkins out of the University of Minnesota with the 22nd overall pick in ’04. Both are under club control through ‘18, and it would be an upset if either played for another team.
Of course Mauer wants to be an All-Star. Of course Perkins does, too. But the event, they know, is not about them. It’s about their fans, their native Twin Cities, their cherished home state of Minnesota.
Mauer vows to be an enthusiastic host, regardless of whether he makes the team.
“It’s not every time the All-Star Game comes to your hometown,” Mauer said. “I told them I’d be the ambassador, and that’s what I’m going to do.”