It can't be easy for Minnesota Twins slugger Joe Mauer to hear booing from his hometown fans. He's heard it before occasionally, he says in the Pioneer Press, but this is the first time that all of these factors have come together since Mauer signed a contract that pays him $23 million annual:
• Mauer is healthy (he's gotten past a lower back injury).
• Mauer is not performing to his standards (he's batting .277/.356/.356 — all career lows).
• The Twins are losing (they fell 1-0 to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday and have a 24-26 record).
When a team is going bad, and that team's best player is going almost as bad, it doesn't matter if he grew up minutes away and is one of the state's most popular athletes ever — he's going to hear about it.
"I don't even really have a comment for that," Mauer said. "Just a tough night. Runs were at a premium. I'm probably a lot more frustrated than those people that were booing."
Longtime Twins observers couldn't remember Mauer being booed at home during his 11 seasons playing for the team he grew up rooting for in St. Paul. Yet Mauer said it was "definitely not" the first time he'd heard boos in his home park.
"You know what, like I said, I'm a heck of a lot more frustrated than they are," Mauer added.
Like he said, Mauer definitely has been booed at Target Field, which means not only can he hear, but he's listening.
It's an old story in baseball. A bad team's best players are always the focus of the most scorn. The fans who boo Mauer are within their privilege to do it. It's not going to help. It probably won't hurt, either, because Mauer probably is going to revert (in a good way) to the type of hitter he's been for most of his career. That won't be good enough for some if the lineup around Mauer isn't good enough. Only a few Twins players — Kurt Suzuki, Josmil Pinto and Brian Dozier, along with Eduardo Escobar recently and Trevor Plouffe until recently — are having above-average seasons. That's why the Twins are 19th in runs scored.
Some of that is on Mauer, too. He can hit better, and needs to, but he can't magically surround himself with Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek and call it a World Series contender. He's the focus of attention, not the front office, and he's got to take it when they boo. And he is, like a leader does.
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