What's Spring Training Like Without Joe Mauer?

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This spring has brought uncharted territory for the Minnesota Twins in myriad ways.

First-year manager Rocco Baldelli has brought on a largely new staff, and there are new faces all over the diamond, like Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and Martin Perez, to name a few.

But perhaps the biggest change is who is not in Fort Myers.

Well, he was over the weekend, but it was with his family and as a spectator.

Of course, we’re talking about Joe Mauer, who announced his retirement after 15 MLB seasons and what team PR boss Dustin Morse estimated was 17 or 18 spring trainings in Fort Myers with the club.

Gone is Mauer, who held down the far left corner of the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium, much like he did at Target Field in his nine seasons playing there. Gone are Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar — trade deadline departures whose absences have become even more evident as the offseason has left players with time to reflect.

So what’s it like without these guys, including most notably, Joe?

I decided to ask a few of them so you could hear it in their own words.

Outfielder Jake Cave

When did it become real?

“It became kind of real when he officially announced it. I watched his press conference. It was sad. It was bittersweet. Selfishly I’d like to have Joe around because he helped me so much. But I’m happy for him. It’d be cool to see him a little bit to say ‘What’s up?’ But I got to see him at TwinsFest and stuff like that, so it was cool to see him and ask him about how his family is doing and stuff like that.

Aug 10, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Jake Cave (60) is congratulated by first baseman Joe Mauer (7) after scoring in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Was there another level of finality in Fort Myers?

“Yeah. It’s going to be different. That’s going to be tough for sure. But it’s one of those things where you’ll see his pictures and numbers everywhere. I’m sure he’ll be around. I mean I don’t know. Nobody’s really asked him about it. I can’t see him staying away from the ballfield. I don’t see myself staying away from the ballfield ever when I’m done. I don’t see Joe ever doing it. He’s the man.”

Team in good hands without Mauer/Dozier/Escobar leadership-wise?

“Yeah. So far, it’s just spring, but it’s not really like a leadership thing. Everybody is having fun. Everybody is talking to everybody. Everybody is happy for each other when they come to the dugout after a big hit. It just seems like it’s a cool clubhouse and a great dynamic we have going on.”

Reliever Taylor Rogers

How weird is it really?

“Ha, it’s a little different, yeah. Didn’t really know what it was going to be like until we got down here (to Fort Myers). But I think the season will certainly be different, too. We still just talk about him and some of the stuff he used to do so his legacy still kind of lives on. A lot of times we talk about him and it seems like he’s dead. ‘Oh, Joe used to this. Remember when Joe did this?’ We need to talk about him in the present tense still. *laughs*

No Joe/Escobar/Dozier, how are each of those voids felt differently?

“Yeah, I think it’s part of the business. We got to experience time without those guys last year. I think coming into this year, we kind of realized — without really saying it — that we can create our own identity now. Obviously those guys are missed, but there’s nothing we can do about it. So we can create our own team identity now, and other people’s personalities can kind of show more now too.”

Catcher Mitch Garver

What’s the overall vibe?

“It’s a little bit different. I think it’ll be more different when we get to Minnesota.

Apr 5, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver (23) reacts with first baseman Joe Mauer (7) with after a home run during the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

When did it begin to feel real that he wasn’t coming back?

“It was during the offseason when I realized he was not going to be coming back. When he officially announced it, that was the point. But then it was kind of time to move on and think about who else we’re going to have in the clubhouse. It’s going to be a different look. Every year I’ve been here we’ve had Joe, Doz, Esky and Moli. So that’s like four people we’ve always had, and now we’ve just had to take a new grasp of it. It’s going to be different.

How do you expect the dynamics of the clubhouse to evolve?

“It’s going to be fine. It’s going to be totally fine. We have so much talent in here. We have good people. We have a new staff. Fresh faces. High energy. We’re going to be fine.”

Reliever Tyler Duffey

How crazy is it after almost 20 years for Joe not to be here?

“Right, it’s one of those things. The guys who were around him with any sort of regularity, I think, got something from him. When we did our interviews when we got here at the beginning of the year with FSN, I said that he was just consistent every day. He’d show up to the field and had his routine. He wasn’t going to break it. It kind of gave everyone else a baseline. This guy’s doing this. The hitter he was, the player he was…that worked for a reason. He was dedicated to what he was doing. He knew what he had to do to get ready. I think everyone in here who was around him took something from that and put it towards themselves. Whether he’s actually in the clubhouse or not, his thought process or whatever you want to call it is still here. His leadership, I guess, ultimately. So yeah. Obviously he’ll be around, but he definitely left his mark. It’s still here.

Added formality when you showed up to Fort Myers and he wasn’t here?

“Yeah, getting down here and he had the big locker and the whole deal, and he’s not there. You don’t actively think about your teammates daily in the offseason. Then you get here and you’re like ‘Oh yeah, Joe’s not here.’ And then it kind of resets. You kind of replay all that stuff. Then you get asked questions at the start of spring at media day. There are just little things here and there that pop up and we’ll catch ourselves going to do something and it’ll be like ‘Ask whoever…wait, Joe’s not the guy to ask here now.’ That kind of thing. Everything will fall into place. Someone will assume the role as that leadership individual. It’ll work itself out. It’s baseball.

No Doz/Joe/Esky…

“Yeah, it’s weird, especially walking in the clubhouse through the front doors here. They were right there when you walked in, all three of them. So it’s definitely a different aesthetic when you walk in and don’t see those faces anymore. But we’ve got some new guys in here like Nelson, Marwin, Jason (Castro) who has some time up and down the road. Pitchers, all that. We’re actually a pretty young team. But we have Michael Pineda here. He’s not even 30 yet and he’s got like seven or eight years in the big leagues. There’s still a lot of veteran years in the major leagues represented here, they’re just not older guys — especially on the pitching side. It’s kind of the way the game has gone. Like you said, you show up to spring training and you don’t get to pick who is on the team. You kind of figure out who is here, work with them, become friends and win some ballgames.”

Reliever Trevor Hildenberger

How strange is it not having him here?

“A little strange, yeah. He was such a leader in this clubhouse both verbally and through his actions, and it’s a little strange not to have him here. I think there are a few guys I miss in this clubhouse that were here last year.

Jun 23, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) and relief pitcher Trevor Hildenberger (39) celebrate celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Guys leaving during the season have to be different though, right?

“Like you said, it’s strange. That’s probably the word to describe it. I’m really happy for him. He’s living life with his family, taking care of his kids. This team will be alright. We have good players and leaders who will step up. We have a bunch of guys who’ll have to step up and fill his role. Obviously, one guy can’t do it alone. But we’re going to miss him.”

Hitting coach James Rowson

You’re here, he’s not. What’s that like?

“It’s obviously different. You miss his presence without a doubt. It’s not just what he’s done in this organization, but what he’s done in this game. You walk in here and you expect to look in that corner, and it’s weird to look over there and not see Joe down there going through what he goes through every day. You definitely miss him. The cool part is that you do have some guys who know what Joe stood for and who were around him the last couple years, and it’s pretty cool to see some guys take the reins and kind of try to move forward and do things in a way they feel he would like, and and in a way I think he’d be excited about how guys are going about their business and doing things this year. But without a doubt, you don’t lose a Joe Mauer and just move on. There’s a point where you kind of look up and say…..’Man.’ You realize how special he was as a player.

How will you see and feel his influence this year?

“I think the guys who have been around him understand — I mean, he’s done a lot with our players, and they can tell you — the way to prepare. The guys who have been around him have learned to respect the game and the things they do to get ready for games. You see it. You see his teachings in a lot of players. I look at Eddie Rosario for instance — I think his routine to get ready for the game is probably second to or equal to where Joe was. But I also know the respect he had for Joe, and how he watched him for the last two years and asked him questions. Now you can see some of the things Joe did in the players we have in here still.”

Outfielder Max Kepler

What’s it like without Joe after so many camps together?

“I mean it goes for all the guys who used to be on this team. But yeah, Joe especially. But we have other guys now. Not to diminish Joe’s effect. Joe was that guy, you know, I personally looked to and learned from. He was an idol to me. But, you know, we have guys now that I look up to as well. I think on every team, there’s always going to be a guy or two that I look to for guidance when it comes to baseball.

Added level of finality in Fort Myers?

“No, it’s kind of like how I expected it. He’s not here.”

Pitcher Kyle Gibson

What’s it like this spring without Joe?

“It’s different. But, just mainly because he was kind of the guy who had just been a constant for so long. I don’t know that it’s definitely really set in yet, because we haven’t seen him not on the field yet — which is going to be weird. Overall it’s been good. Kind of the big theme of the leadership part of camp is not trying to fill his void, and try to just be yourself. I think that’s what everyone in here is trying to do, just be yourself. Nobody needs to be the new Joe Mauer. You just have to be yourself.

Aug 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) talks with starting pitcher Kyle Gibson (44) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

No Joe/Esky/Doz…how are each different?

“Huh, that’s a good question. I think with Esky and Doz it’s more like the sum of what those guys brought. Their personalities together, and how much they brought to the clubhouse. But yeah, it’s different. Not having Esky running around here and talking every two or three minutes and saying one of his favorite sayings. But yeah, those guys will be missed for sure.”

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