Daddy day care needed a little help. For all of the things Joe Mauer does well – hit a baseball, rap, befuddle faux video-game pitchmen – handling his infant twin girls by himself one day this offseason was proving a smidge hairy. Assistance came in the form of a familiar face.
Glen Perkins has two girls of his own, so he knows the muck and mire of young fatherhood, and once the twins calmed down, he and Mauer got to talking. About their past and present and especially their future with the Twins, capital T, the team they grew up loving and were drafted by and today play for and never plan on leaving.
And the chances of that – of two kids who grow up in the same area, graduate high school the same year, end up in their hometown organization, make the major leagues and don't play anywhere else – aren't just unlikely. They're unprecedented. What Mauer and Perkins talked about that day, being start-to-finish Twins by finishing what they started with a World Series ring, was the onus behind Perkins' latest contract extension that ends with a team option in 2018 – the same year Mauer's mega-deal expires.
"We both want to win here," said Perkins, who debuted in 2006, two years after Mauer. "What came out of the conversation was losing sucks, but it's worth it if we get to win one here. We both saw Herbie do it here and thought how cool that would be."
Herbie is Kent Hrbek, the Bloomington, Minn., resident who won a pair of World Series with the Twins alongside Kirby Puckett. Both were lifetime Twins, and even that – a pair of one-team standouts playing alongside each other – is today a rarity. Free agency hasn't killed the idea as much as made it an anachronism.
There were Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada alongside Derek Jeter, and Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio in Houston. Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell patrolled Detroit's infield together, George Brett and Frank White the Royals', Robin Yount and Jim Gantner the Brewers'. And even before free agency, longtime standout teammates – Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott – were far from innumerable.
The potential for others does exist today. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce may well spend their careers in Cincinnati. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright should do the same in St. Louis. Even if Philadelphia blows up its roster, two of their core four – Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels – could stick around for the long haul.
"Not too many people wear just one uniform anymore," Mauer said. "For me, being drafted by my hometown team, when my grandparents come to every home game – those are the types of things that are important to me. All of those things factor in, and it made my decision pretty easy."
Four years ago, Mauer signed an eight-year, $184 million contract, the richest in Twins history and, at the time, the sport's fourth largest. Not only was the money befitting a catcher coming off an MVP season, it kept him where he wanted to be. His grandparents, in their 80s, have missed three or four home games during his 11-year career by Mauer's count. His grandfather, Jake, told him they pretty much go only two places these days: church and the ballpark, and compared to the Metrodome, Target Field is something of a cathedral itself.
Plenty has changed, of course, in those four seasons. The Twins are rebuilding. Most of the familiar faces outside of Mauer and Perkins are gone. And Mauer's actual face, long shielded by a catcher's mask, is there for the viewing at first base. A concussion that ended his 2013 season also terminated his catching career at age 30. No longer does he travel with his gear. He doesn't surreptitiously sneak a just-in-case mitt into his equipment bag. Two foul tips off the mask and four months of recovery kicked him of any wishes to return behind the plate.
"It was tough to come to that decision, probably one of the toughest," he said. "But one of the easier, too, considering the concussion, my family, all the things that come along with it. It really wasn't worth it for me and my family or the organization."
Mauer talked with Twins doctors as well as those at the Mayo Clinic, hopeful someone would tell him it would be safe to catch again. Nobody did. The only throws he would receive from Perkins would be off a pickoff move.
Which is fine with Perkins. So long as Mauer is there – and considering he has a full no-trade clause, the chances of him leaving are tiny – the Twins still will have the feel of the organization Perkins ascended coming out of the University of Minnesota. Perkins was a first-round pick, a command left-hander who could run his fastball up to 92 mph or so. A failed rotation stint left him in the bullpen, where a shoulder program helped him jump his velocity into the mid-90s. When he started hitting 97, sometimes 98 mph, the Twins recognized a bullpen ace-in-waiting. Since 2011, he has thrown 194 2/3 innings of 2.45 ERA ball, striking out 220 and walking just 52. He belongs in the discussion of the game's best closers.
Perkins signed his first big deal during spring training in 2012, guaranteeing him a job through 2015 with a club option for 2016. After the conversation with Mauer, he and the Twins started discussing a new deal, and in mid-March it was struck: four years, $22.175 million with a $6.5 million club option for 2018. It was less than he could've conceivably made in free agency, though free agency for Perkins might as well not exist.
"I would rather not play than play somewhere else," he said.
Loyalty means a lot in the Twins' organization, more than it does in most. It's why their front-office turnover is so minimal, why Ron Gardenhire remains the manager after three straight dreadful seasons, why patience with this group – which, at 9-9, is hanging around in the American League Central – remains palpable as Twins fans wait for the arrival of uberprospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.
Mauer and Perkins appreciate it, too, and as such they've pledged themselves to the Twins now and going forward. They couldn't have imagined it way back when they were roommates during the Minnesota Lions High School All-Star Baseball Tournament, playing together for the Metro East team. Someone took a picture of the two together. Perkins looks like a tiny version of himself. Mauer might be a vampire. He hasn't aged a day.
They've grown together, improved together and find themselves Twins together, chances are, forever. Better than they could've imagined back then. Exactly as they hope now.
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