Despite nerves, Mauer shines in 1B debut; 'I'm glad it's over with'
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CHICAGO -- Citing the fact that he hadn't fielded a groundball in nearly 10 years, Joe Mauer admitted to being nervous prior to his debut at first base for the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night.
But on a defensive scale ranging from David Ortiz to Doug Mientkiewicz, it looks as if Mauer falls much closer to the latter.
The White Sox wasted no time challenging the fledgling first baseman. After a leadoff single by Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel ripped a low line drive down the line, but Mauer snagged it, then stepped on the bag to double off Pierre.
Two batters later, Mauer -- using one of Michael Cuddyer's first-baseman gloves -- ended the inning by snagging a hard groundball off the bat of Adam Dunn and touching first for the forceout.
The tests continued in the fifth inning, as Mauer channeled his inner catcher on an awkward bouncer by Pierre, dropping to his knees to smother the ball. The next batter, Vizquel, hit a hard hopper that Mauer stabbed while sprawling to his right. To end the inning, Mauer scooped a one-hop throw by Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who made an outstanding, backhanded play in the hole.
He even had time to flash a smile after passing his first real scooping test on a low throw by Danny Valencia in the bottom of the sixth inning.
"I'm glad it's over with," said Mauer, who also went 3-for-5 at the plate with two RBIs. "I think that first inning was good for me personally to get a couple balls hit at me. I had a lot of fun tonight. Teammates were supporting me, and I had a lot of fun. It was good to see smiles and to get the win.
"I think that's probably why I was most nervous, because I wanted to make the plays for my teammates and try to win a ballgame. So it was good to get that out of the way, and if they need me over there some other time, hopefully I can go over there and do the same thing."
The former MVP capped off his eventful evening by making a smooth backhanded stop in the ninth inning on a groundball by A.J. Pierzynski.
"Pretty incredible," said starting pitcher Carl Pavano. "I'm sure Joe was a little nervous, but none of us were. We know what kind of athlete he is. And we knew as soon as the bell rang all that little bit of anxiety that he might have had would have went away."
Despite the butterflies, Mauer looked like a natural -- fluid, confident and sure-handed the entire night.
And although he is adamant about his status as a catcher, it's likely Mauer -- who made it pretty clear Wednesday that he is nowhere near 100% physically -- will continue to see time at first sometime in the near future.
"It's not an easy position," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "but I know from the fact that when I was playing (first base) at the end of my career ... From being in the middle of the field or being behind the plate, it's like a vacation. Honestly, it's like, 'Wow.' ...
"You've got to catch the ball, but really it's catch the ball, knock it down, throw it to a guy covering. I said, 'You'll relax, I promise you, once you get used to it.' I'm not saying that first base is easy and anyone can do it. It's not. You have to be a skilled person. But I'm just saying, as a player, it's right in front of you. Everything's right there, the base is right there, so you start relaxing.
"I'm hoping he'll really like it, because we could use him over there and really get a lot more out of him as we go along. He's still a catcher. But I think he did. I think he enjoyed it."
Mauer did enjoy it. But he's keeping only his feet in the pool for right now.
"The manager asked me to go over there and play, and that's what I did tonight," Mauer said. "I had fun doing it, but I'm a catcher. And I think sometimes we lose track of that. That's what I'm here to do."