In St. Paul, Joe Mauer has been an all-star all alongby William Wilcoxen, Minnesota Public Radio
Baseball fans all over the country will tune in to the All-Star game in Pittsburgh, but it's unlikely that any fans will be more excited about the game than those in the neighborhood around Randolph and Hamline Avenues in St. Paul. That's where Cretin-Derham Hall High School is located. Locals will be cheering for one of their own, Cretin-Derham graduate Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, when he takes the field with his American League teammates Tuesday night.
St. Paul, Minn. — Cretin-Derham Hall High School is not actually on the corner of Randolph and Hamline. Its baseball diamond is.
The high school, perhaps tellingly, is set back behind the ball field. On the opposite diagonal of the intesection sits Schmidty's Sports Barbers, where the proprietor, John Schmidt, says, yes, Joe Mauer's stardom is a big deal in this neighborhood. But that doesn't mean people treat him any differently.
"There's definitely a pride factor...at least in here he's just one of the guys, though," he says.
He's the only one of the guys who can open the sports section to find his own name at the top of Major League Baseball's batting leaders. The prospect of a batting title and his first big league All-Star game are part of a breakthrough season in Joe Mauer's baseball career.
But while the national sports scene may see him as the next big thing, Mauer's athletic prowess is old news in Schmidty's barber shop.
"He's playing so well, and it's fun to hear all the people talk about him. They're like, 'Are you really surprised?' No. Yes and no. But no because he's always excelled. He's always played at that level."
In his days at Cretin-Derham Hall, Mauer played baseball, football, and basketball at an elite level, winning All State honors in each sport and national player of the year awards in baseball and football. Schmidt was part of the football coaching staff when Mauer was Cretin-Derham's star quarterback.
"He was a really smart kid. So they were able to run offenses that a lot of high schools can't. So, whatever defense you throw at us, we've got a play for that," says Schmidt. "And that's tough to do. The quarterback's got to get it. The individual positions just have to know what they have to do. The quarterback has to know everything. Plus, he could throw the ball. He could really throw the ball."
St. Paul's Irish Catholic roots run deep, and parochial schools like Cretin and Derham Hall have been an important part of that heritage since the 1870s.
Jim Murphy, who's at the barber shop for a trim, started keeping scorebooks at Cretin baseball games in the late 1940s, and has been a fan ever since. Murphy has been following Joe Mauer's athletic career since the youngster was on the St. Columba seventh grade baseball team. Murphy says it was clear even then that he was watching a gifted athlete. But he says another reason Mauer became a leader is that he's always carried himself with a certain genuineness.
"He's a low-key type kid. What you see on TV is what Joe Mauer is. He just goes about his thing. He never has any pretense about him. He's just one of the boys," Murphy says.
Phrases like "one of the boys," "low-key," "no pretention," and "well-grounded" emanate from locals as they describe Mauer.
Several yards beyond the left field fence at Cretin-Derham's ball field is a neighborhood hamburger and beer joint called the Nook. Paul Molitor, who's now enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame, is among generations of Cretin players who've tried to reach the restaurant with their home runs.
Ted Casper remembers that he and his business partner purchased the Nook not long before the Twins selected Mauer with the first choice of baseball's 2001 amateur draft.
"And one day he came in to have a root beer. I told him I'd have to name a burger after him. He said, 'Why don't you wait until I do something?' We'd already got the news that he'd been drafted, but he was still very humble even after that," Casper says.
Casper attended Cretin-Derham a few years before the 23-year-old Mauer. He says alums in his age group heard plenty of tales of Paul Molitor's heyday, and now take pride in having a hero of their own vintage to admire.
Back at the barbershop, John Schmidt suspects Mauer will enthrall many more Twins fans before his career turns into tales of past glory. And whenever that day finally arrives, some of the stories told will be of getting a haircut or having a hamburger alongside Joe Mauer.
"It's fun to see a little kid look at him, and his eyes pop open and he says to his mom, 'Is that Joe Mauer? Is that Joe Mauer, mom?' And he's very good about that when a kid'll walk up to him. But that's just Joe. That's just Joe," Schmidt says.
Ivan Rodriguez of the Detroit Tigers will be the starting catcher on the American League All-Star team, because he finished first in the fan balloting that determines most starters. Mauer was the top American League catcher in voting by the players, who help select the non-starters on the All-Star team.