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Mauer tours Hall of Fame: 'It's starting to sink in'

He might a baseball immortal now, but Joe Mauer is still capable of being star-struck — sometimes just by looking at his phone.

"Wayne Gretzky reached out and congratulated me," Mauer said at a news conference Thursday at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. "It was really nice to see a text from him, and [have] a little back-and-forth."

The NHL Hall of Famer was one of dozens of sports figures to contact the Twins icon since he was elected to the Hall's Class of 2024 on Tuesday, a fact that Mauer said "is really amazing." But he began the process of getting used to the notion that he's now one of them Thursday by taking a tour of the museum's plaque gallery, where his own likeness will be displayed upon his induction on July 21.

"It's very humbling to be in this room, with the greatness that surrounds us," Mauer said, alongside fellow new inductees Adrián Beltré and Todd Helton. "Right now it's starting to sink in, in this room. But I don't think I'll fully grasp [his new stature] until time goes on."

Mauer said he is particularly thrilled to join his boyhood hero in the Hall of Fame.

"My favorite player was Kirby Puckett. Growing up in the Twin Cities, watching the Twins, I really enjoyed watching him play," Mauer said. "It's pretty surreal" to be inducted near his plaque, 23 years after Puckett's own induction.

It's been an emotional couple of days, Mauer said, and that sense was only heightened by seeing the names and faces on those 342 plaques, then autographing the spot on the wall where his own will be displayed, a Hall of Fame tradition.

"There are a lot of emotions when you're in this room. You start reflecting on how you got here, and your journey and everybody that's impacted it — family, friends, coaches," said Mauer, who was joined for the tour by his mother, Teresa; his wife Maddie; his twin daughters Marin and Emily; and his son Chip. "And some of the men who are on this wall, you emulate them, you want to be them, be like them. It's a pretty unreal feeling to be in the presence of this greatness in this room. A lot of things are running through my head right now."

Including the memory of a spring training game more than two decades ago, a game that didn't count but turned out to be far from inconsequential to the Twins' rookie catcher.

"I remember facing Roy Halladay. To me, it was the World Series. To him, it was probably just getting some work in before the season," Mauer recalled of facing another fellow Hall of Famer. "I remember going 2-for-2. I get on second base and a future teammate of mine, [second baseman] Orlando Hudson, said 'You're not supposed to do that.'

"At that moment, I felt — 'You know what, I belong here. If I keep working hard, doing the right things, I can stay.' So that was the moment for me."

That moment led to 15 seasons in the major leagues, six All-Star appearances, three batting titles and the 2009 AL Most Valuable Player award — and now, Cooperstown. We'll never know if the three-sport high-school superstar would be in Canton, Ohio, instead as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had he turned down the Twins and kept his commitment to play football at Florida State.

But sitting next to Helton, who quarterbacked at Tennessee in 1994 until a knee injury allowed Peyton Manning to take over for him and begin his own Hall of Fame career, Mauer relished the thought of throwing a football around again.

So who's the better quarterback?

"It's got to be him," said Helton, who was congratulated by both Peyton and Archie Manning after his election. "I played in the SEC, but I wasn't any good. But I had fun doing it, and it got me a full ride in college."

"I'm looking forward to playing catch with him with the football," Mauer said with a laugh. "I can't wait to hear some more stories, especially on the gridiron."