By Jamie Macpherson
Minnesota has always had an eclectic assortment of celebrities. Josh Hartnett; The Andrews Sisters; Vince Vaughn; Prince. But perhaps the most loved St. Paul hero as of late is Twins’ catcher, Joe Mauer. Wednesday night a crowd of 4,000 packed into the field house of Mauer’s alma mater, Cretin Derham High, to welcome him “home” as part on the ESPN show, “Homecoming with Rick Reilly.”The show’s premise is simple: track down a star athlete, go to their hometown, and film the community welcoming the athlete home. But Rick Reilly and ESPN got more than they bargained for when they picked Joe Mauer, the only catcher in the American League to win a batting title three times. They didn’t anticipate the overwhelming turnout that included former little league teammates, football teammates, and roommates. But then, they didn’t factor in Mauer’s mother, Teresa, who organized a turn out of 1000 for Mauer’s debut game with the Twins. And most of those were family members.”I think we picked the right athlete,” said “Homecoming’s” executive producer, Anne Powell. Mauer, introduced by Reilly as “the most famous Minnesotan since Paul Bunyan,” was soft spoken in his purple pullover (Cretin’s school colors). He sat at ease, his demeanor adding credibility to his “Average Joe” reputation. Although he was the Twin’s first draft pick of 2001, he showed up to the first day of Twins practice in a Chevy Trailblazer, feeling as though he still needed to earn his spot in the big leagues. “I’m a laid back guy,” Mauer admitted. “I think everyone here would tell you I don’t like the spotlight.Like it or not, Mauer was the center of focus for the evening. One by one, family members and coaches stood up and shared a few recollections of Mauer growing up. His mother shared a story of sibling squabbles, while his coach spoke about Mauer’s determination, and how in his entire high school career, he only struck out once. Most memorable, however, was Mauer’s grandfather, Donald “Jake” Mauer Sr. When it came to his turn, Jake Mauer Sr. stood up and announced to the crowd, “Tonight, you’re witness not only to a great man, but to the best baseball player in the American League!” to which Reilly wryly suggested that perhaps he should be interviewing Mauer Sr. instead. Mauer Sr. also played baseball, but never made it to the big leagues, because, as he said, “I liked women, and I liked booze.”Although the evening was pleasant, there was an undertone of anxiety. Mauer’s contract ends after the 2010 season, and his future remains uncertain. Both the Red Sox and the Yankees are courting Mauer, rumors of offers have been everywhere from $25 to $35 million a year. The Twins want Mauer to stay in the Twin Cities, as do his fans. When Reilly pointedly asked if Mauer enjoyed catching for Mariano Rivera of the Yankees during the All-Star game, the field house erupted in boos. For Mauer’s part, he said the deciding factor will be his happiness, and that right now, he’s happy right where is, at home in him community.”I get choked up, seeing guys [here tonight] I haven’t seen in years,” he said. “It gives me a base. I will try to represent St. Paul to the best of my abilities.”The “Homecoming” episode with Joe Mauer is scheduled to broadcast in late April. Check ESPN.com for details.