07/10/09 8:18 PM ET
Mauer accepts invitation to Derby
Catcher has hit a career-high 15 homers this season
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
But the Twins All-Star catcher had to make sure of one thing first before committing publicly to the event. And it was that his high school coach, Jim O'Neill, from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul would be available to pitch to him."I wanted to make sure that he could do it, and here we are," Mauer said on Friday afternoon after confirming his participation in the event, which will begin at 7:00 p.m. CT. Mauer never hid his desire to take part in the Derby. When asked on Selection Sunday whether he would encourage teammate Justin Morneau -- the reigning champion in the event -- to take part, Mauer said that he'd let Morneau make up his own mind but that he'd have a hard time saying no if he were asked. This will be Mauer's third All-Star Game, but it's the first time that he's participated in the Home Run Derby. "I just think it's a great event," Mauer said. "Home Run Derby -- I always told my buddies when we were younger -- we always played it in the back yard and stuff like that. I always told them, if I ever had the opportunity to do it, I would jump at it, and it happened this year." Mauer was one of two AL players to commit to the Derby on Friday. Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, who was selected as a Final Vote candidate, also confirmed his participation. So far they are the only two players to commit from the AL, leaving two spots still remaining from the league. The National League group is already set with four first basemen -- Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. Mauer seemed a somewhat unlikely choice because the two-time batting champion is not a prototypical home run hitter. But he has already set a career high in home runs this season with 15, surpassing his previous high of 13 in 2006. While Mauer might not be the favorite in the Derby this year, his teammates are the first ones to tell people not to overlook him in the event. "The last couple rounds we start hitting home runs in batting practice and he goes up in that upper deck here at the Metrodome pretty much whenever he wants," Morneau said. "Believe me, he'll surprise some people with how far he can hit the ball." "There is no question in my mind he'll win," Twins starting pitcher Glen Perkins said of Mauer. "I'll put my paycheck on it." One person Mauer won't have to compete against is his teammate and close friend, Morneau. Although Morneau had declined an earlier invitation to take part in the Derby, Home Run Derby officials asked him again when Mauer committed saying they'd love to have two teammates competing in the event together. Morneau agreed that it'd be a neat thing to do, but he said that he'd already made his decision and would sit it out. Still, Morneau plans to be sitting right there on the sidelines while the catcher competes and said he'll give his teammate plenty of advice. "The hardest thing about it is if you take about 2-3 pitches in a row and people start booing you, you start swinging at everything because you feel like people are staring at you, waiting for you to hit," Morneau said. "That's the reason why I think Joe will do well is that he doesn't have that problem. He can go out there in a game and get two at-bats in a row, not swing at a pitch and take two walks. So he can go up there on Monday and take 3-4 pitches if they are not right where he wants them. " Mauer said that he first got really excited about the event when he called O'Neill to ask him to take part. The catcher plans to get O'Neill out to the Metrodome this weekend to practice throwing in a big league ballpark. "It's kind of a thing with my high school buddies and guys that I've played with, they've always talked about how money his BP is," Mauer said. "They always tell me, 'If you ever have a chance, you should invite him.' He's helped me out a lot. He was the first guy I thought of." As for all the talk about whether the Derby can affect a hitter's swing, Mauer didn't sound concerned. "I don't think one night will affect your swing for the rest of the season," Mauer said. "It might be a little tiring, but as far as mechanically, I don't think so." Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn't seem worried about his best hitter being in the event either. Although Gardenhire couldn't resist having a little fun with that fact either. "He told me it was a single up the middle contest, and that's why he joined it," Gardenhire joked. " But really I don't hold these guys back. I know Joe's got a great swing and he's going to do what he needs to do. I don't think it'll affect him. He's going to go out there and probably put a few in the seats and have fun. I think the greatest thing about it is his high school coach is going to throw to him. I think that's probably as neat as it gets for his coach and for Joe."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.