Mauer, Molitor see a lot of themselves in each other

New Twins skipper Paul Molitor (right) and Minnesota star Joe Mauer (shown here in a file photo) met in the offseason to plot a course for the future for both Mauer and the entire team.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Mauer sat across the table from Paul Molitor at an undisclosed St. Paul eatery, two luminaries of capital city baseball royalty charged with returning the state to professional diamond relevance. Neither of them would unveil where they met for lunch recently — "I don’t want to say it," Mauer said, "because then it won’t be as quiet" — but it’s a place Mauer frequents enough that patrons know to let him eat in relative peace (a rarity around the Twin Cities).

The two talked about the Twins’ struggles the past four years. They talked about Mauer’s, too.

Of course, it wasn’t their first meeting. The two got to know each other last year when Molitor served on predecessor Ron Gardenhire’s staff. Mauer first met the current Minnesota skipper when Mauer was in grade school and attending camps at Cretin-Derham Hall, where both St. Paul natives attended high school. Molitor told Mauer and the rest of his pre-adolescent comrades to swing toward every part of the field during batting practice, a habit the six-time All-Star deploys to this day.

But this was different. This was intimate. A chance for both men to share observations and begin drafting a plan to get a franchise that’s lost 92 or more games four years in a row — and its star player — back to unquestionable respectability.

"We talked about a lot of things," Molitor said Friday at the Twins’ media luncheon, part of the club’s annual TwinsFest proceedings. "It was just good to see Joe in a good place. I think he’s happy with the work he’s done this winter."

And the more time they spend together, Mauer said, the more each sees himself in the other.

"It seems like we’re a lot alike," Mauer said.

That goes beyond their common homeland and alma mater. Mostly, it’s their central place in the new era of Twins baseball.

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For Molitor, that means translating his 21 years of Hall of Fame playing experience into effective leadership and management of a team comprised of promising young talent and proven veterans.

"He’s one of the smartest baseball people I’ve ever been around," Mauer said of Molitor, 27 years his senior at the age of 58. "The one thing I’ve admired about him and liked to watch him is how he prepares for anything. Last year, baserunning or defense, he would just dive right into it. He would never leave any stone unturned."

For Mauer, it means regaining the full appreciation of a fan base that adores him but has seen him regress due to nagging injuries the past two seasons.

Two years ago, concussions dragged him off his pedestal. Even after a switch from catcher to first base last season designed to mitigate wear and tear on his body, he missed 42 games with back spasms and an oblique strain.

Mauer’s had what he calls a productive and "normal" offseason this year, unlimited by physical ailments as he’s worked with former Twin Roger Erickson all winter. He likes the moves Minnesota’s made, landing Ervin Santana and bringing back former teammate Torii Hunter in free agency.

The decision to hire Molitor ranks right up there, too.

"I’m ready to go right now," Mauer said. "I know we have a lot of young talent. It’s definitely nice to get excited about that and we should get excited about that. But I don’t see why with the guys that we have right here that we can’t make a splash this year."

Mauer did confirm that he and Molitor didn’t convene at The Nook in St. Paul, where both players have burgers named after them.

Maybe someday, Mauer said. After all, there’s plenty more for the pair to chew on, starting with spring training next month in Fort Myers, Fla.

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