07/14/08 4:03 PM ET
All-Star trio proud to represent Twins
Mauer, Morneau, Nathan extoll Minnesota's brand of baseball
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
But one shouldn't assume that catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau and closer Joe Nathan weren't about to embrace it. In fact, this was just the stage they had been waiting for.
Sitting in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt New York Hotel on Monday, they spoke of their All-Star selections. They spoke about Yankee Stadium -- its aura, its history, its impending conclusion. They spoke about previous All-Star memories.
But most pointedly, they used the forum to speak about the Twins, hopeful that on the grandest stage in the grandest city, maybe one of baseball's surprising first-half teams will finally get its due national recognition.
"People are now seeing how the Minnesota Twins play baseball," said Morneau, who is making his second straight All-Star appearance. "And they want to follow it."
For the third straight season, the Twins have at least three representatives on the American League All-Star team. That wouldn't necessarily seem out of the ordinary for a team sitting 11 games above .500 and just 1 1/2 games out of first in the AL Central.
But remember, this was supposed to be the year the Twins began to rebuild without departed stalwarts Johan Santana and Torii Hunter. But with preseason talk centering around the Tigers, and much of the in-season interest focused on the surging White Sox, the Twins have flown under the radar.
The hope now, Mauer said, is that having three All-Star representatives will counter that lack of notoriety.
"It's nice to just get recognized that we have a pretty good baseball team in Minnesota," Mauer said. "To bring three players to an All-Star Game from a market like that is great."
Mauer will be the first Twins player to take the field as a starter for the Midsummer Classic since Hunter in 2002. And the honor is unquestionably deserved, as Mauer entered the All-Star break with the AL's third-highest batting average (.322).
"It's exciting," said Mauer, who made his All-Star debut in 2006. "Coming from a small market and to get voted by the fans means a lot."
He will meet Yankees great Yogi Berra on Tuesday, a prospect that had the 25-year-old catcher grinning on Monday.
As for Nathan, the 33-year-old right-hander was one of six AL closers sitting in the Grand Hyatt's ballroom on Monday. Participating in what will be his third All-Star Game, it was immediately evident that this one would top them all.
Growing up about an hour north of the city, Nathan spent his summers rooting for the Mets, but attending games at Yankee Stadium. Now, more than 20 years after taking in his first game there, Nathan spoke of the honor of being invited to participate in the final All-Star Game before the stadium forever closes its doors.
"For us as players, I think it's going to bring back that special feeling like we had when we went to a baseball game at 12 years old," Nathan said. "There was just a feeling that you had coming to this stadium."
And in between Nathan and Mauer sat Morneau, who preferred to speak more about the accomplishments of his team than about his own -- this coming from a player who currently has the league's second-highest average and third-best RBI total.
"When you come in, you see how Minnesota plays baseball and you buy into it," Morneau said. "It's one of the things that made me want to stay in Minnesota long term."
At the same time, though, Morneau made sure to stop and take in the moment.
"You look around the room and you're in here with A-Rod and [Derek] Jeter and everybody," Morneau said. "And then you're sitting here, too. It's pretty cool to be a part of this thing and to know that my name is going to be on the roster, too."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.