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Joe Mauer

Caught a couple of games at the Metrodome last week. The Twins played the Yankees. Sadly, the Yankees won both games, as well as the third game of the series.

Apparently Evil sometimes prevails over Good.

Yet, it was well worth the trip just to watch Joe Mauer play his trade.

Twenty years ago, Twins fans fell hard for the puppy-dog enthusiasm of Kirby Puckett. Today, they are beginning to appreciate the feline grace and power of hometown hero Joe Mauer.

Everything about Mauer is cat-like, starting when he steps up to the plate. A finicky hitter, Mauer ignores even the fattest looking pitches if they don't meet his approval.

The opposing pitcher, not wanting his offerings to be devoured, throws the first pitch just off the edge of the plate, hoping to get Mauer to nibble. Fussy Joe looks away from the pitch with disdain, as if it is a stale bowl of Meow Mix.

The umpire, figuring that if the pitch isn't good enough for Mauer, it isn't good enough for him, calls it a ball.

The next pitch? Even closer. Same result. Mauer turns away and looks off into the distance, utterly bored. The umpire doesn't think twice and calls the pitch a ball.

Now ahead in the count 2-0, Mauer is in the driver's seat. The pitcher, in frustration, throws a fat fastball right down the middle, figuring he can get Mauer to bite and maybe ground out to short.

No such luck. Just to prove how finicky he is, Mauer turns from away the fat fastball, the baseball equivalent of a freshly-opened can of tuna, and the pitch sails past untouched.

Forced into a corner, the umpire has no choice. A can of fresh tuna is a can of fresh tuna. He half-heartedly calls a strike, reluctant to show up the greatest hitter in baseball today.

But the Magnificent Mauer is not offended. He is merely measuring his prey. With each pitch, he hones in on the hapless hurler on the mound. At the time of his choosing, Mauer will strike.

The fourth pitch whizzes towards the plate. Mauer, bored as ever, waits to the very last split-second. Just before the ball hits the mitt, he pounces. With a lethal swipe of his paw he belts a cannon shot towards the left-field fence.

The drive might go over the fence or it might bounce off the wall, but either way Joe Mauer has struck again. His effortless swing, the product of thousands of hours of drills and practice, has claimed another victim.

Last week I watched Mauer hit two such shots to the opposite field. The first hit the fence. The second cleared the wall by inches for a home run. Together, those beautiful drives were worth the price of admission.

For the final out of the game, Mauer smashed a hot line drive to the shortstop. Despite the galling loss to the despicable Yanks, it was worth staying until the final out just to watch Mauer bat one more time.

On defense, Mauer carries on his cat-like ways as the Twins catcher.

Last week, a Yankee runner had the gall to try to steal second base. With one smooth motion, Mauer uncoiled from his crouch and unleashed a rifle shot to second base. The runner was dead on arrival, assassinated by one of the best guns in the business.

Ignoring the crowd's roar, Mauer calmly collected himself after yet another conquest of his prey. No fist pump, no victory yell. Not even a smile.

Like a cat that sleepily grooms its fur after finishing off a mouse, Joe Mauer calmly adjusted his chest protector, smoothed away his tracks in the dirt with a few lazy swipes of his shoe and crouched down for the next pitch as if nothing of interest had happened.

Joe Mauer lack's Kirby's charismatic personality. What he possesses, however, is a rare cool on the field and the purest baseball swing since Ted Williams.

Let's hope that those the little kids who grew up charmed by the bubbly Puckett will now help their children enjoy the understated excellence of the Magnificent Mauer.

Watch closely while you can, for there will never be another.