IT'S MAY 2, and the Metrodome is packed. But it's not just the typical Saturday swell choking the seats. Just a shade after 7 p.m., the crowd is on its feet, applauding wildly. Joe Mauer, their Spartan hero, is stepping into the box for his first at-bat of 2009.
The Minnesota Twins' Mike Redmond
courtesy of Patti Redmond
Pat Jr. and Mike Redmond were 12 when their team won the Kirkland, Washington, city championships
Mauer sits on a ball outside the zone. Then, unflinching, he takes a called strike, steps from the box for a practice swing, and gets down to work. The next pitch is a belt-high fastball from the Royals' Sidney Ponson. It's a mistake pitch, and Ponson knows it before it leaves his hand. Out over the heart of the plate it floats, and Mauer turns on it with a stroke as smooth as silk, sending the rawhide sailing over the leftfield wall to clatter into the seats. A home run, on his first swing of the year. Over the airwaves, the color man announces it simply: "Welcome back."
Mauer trots around the bases, basking in the fans' hysteria at this impossible feat, and meets his teammates at the dugout's top step. After he's run a gauntlet of high fives and backslaps, he finds his spot on the bench, beside number 55, the veteran catcher with a sore shoulder and a hard head. Redmond smacks Mauer across the back of the head, laughs broadly, and puts his arm around him. The Old Dog is smiling, the young hero by his side.