15 years later, Feiner’s high school strikeout of Mauer still resonates
MINNEAPOLIS — Paul Feiner remembers the day like it was yesterday.
There he was, a right-handed pitcher for Elk River High School, facing Cretin-Derham Hall in the 2000 Minnesota high school state tournament at Siebert Field. The batter staring down Feiner was a high school junior named Joe Mauer, who one year later would become the first overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft.
Mauer had gotten hits off Feiner twice already that day, tagging him for a home run and a single. But with the game tied 1-1 in the sixth inning, it was Feiner’s time to shine.
Feiner vividly recalls the infamous pitch, a 12-to-6 curveball — his best strikeout pitch. It started middle in around the waist of the left-handed Mauer before dropping off. Mauer swung through it and missed.
Little did Feiner know at the time, but it was the first time in Mauer’s high school career he had struck out. It would also be the last.
"I had no idea that he hadn’t struck out before," Feiner said. "I knew he was really good. I was angry he had gotten the better of me both times."
Feiner and his Elk River team had lost in the first round of the state tournament. So, too, did the nationally-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall squad. Elk River hoped it would face Mauer and Cretin-Derham in the second round, but they didn’t envision it would come in the consolation bracket.
Regardless, it was Feiner’s job to prepare for a Raiders team that had plenty of talent aside from Mauer. But knowing he had to face arguably one of the best high school hitters in the country, Feiner put in some extra prep work. He even added an eephus pitch to his repertoire and threw it once to Mauer, hoping to throw off the future All-Star’s rhythm.
"He laughed. He took it," Feiner said. "It was outside. It wasn’t a tough pitch to lay off, I’m sure."
The matchup to that point had been Mauer 5, Feiner 0. Mauer also happened to be pitching that day and retired Feiner in all three of his at-bats. Meanwhile, Mauer had hits in his first two at-bats. The third and final at-bat of Feiner the pitcher versus Mauer the hitter is one that’s still being talked about 15 years later.
It didn’t hit Feiner until a year after that game when someone showed him a newspaper clipping of Mauer’s career high school stats. Along with the sky-high batting average was the number one where it said strikeouts. Of course, that sole strikeout belonged to Feiner, whose baseball career ended the same day he struck out Mauer.
After graduating from Elk River High School, Feiner went on to attend the University of Minnesota — the site of Siebert Field and his memorable strikeout. Feiner graduated with a communications degree and stayed in the Twin Cities. By day, he does social strategy at a digital agency, Go Kart Labs. By night, he operates a popular Facebook page called "I Love Minnesota Sports." Among the content on his page is plenty of Twins coverage, and that includes stories about Mauer.
It just so happened that Feiner had a media credential for one of Minnesota’s games against Boston at Target Field in late May. Feiner saw Mauer in his corner locker before the game but was apprehensive about approaching his strikeout victim from 15 years ago.
Finally, Feiner introduced himself to Mauer, and the two spent a few minutes reminiscing about that fateful day.
"Obviously there’s been a lot of stories written about that over the years. It was nice to meet him," said Mauer, who insists he doesn’t remember much about that strikeout. "He seemed like a nice guy, humble guy. I don’t think he likes all the attention. It was nice. It’s kind of weird how it ended up us meeting."
After that strikeout — which ended the sixth inning — Feiner came off the field to cheers. It wasn’t his last batter, as he faced a few more hitters before a quick hook in the seventh inning. With that, Feiner’s baseball career came to an end, while Mauer’s was just beginning.
Since that fateful day in 2000, Mauer has struck out 693 times in 12 major league seasons and also whiffed 110 times in the minors, a total of 803 strikeouts during his professional baseball career.
In high school, though, that number was one. Feiner will forever be the answer to the trivia question: who was the only pitcher to strike out Joe Mauer in high school?
"It didn’t become a thing until a year later until he was coming to the end of his senior year and it was, ‘The guy’s only struck out one time,’ and people start to call, reporters start to call, that kind of thing. Then it became a bigger deal when he was making his debut with the Twins," Feiner said. "You don’t think you’ll be talking about this 15 years later, or you don’t think that it’s really a thing or anything like that. People have continued to talk about it. It’s a little factoid."
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