Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer has been named the American League's Most Valuable Player. He won by a near unanimous vote.
The award caps a season for Mauer in which he led the league in most major hitting categories, and posted career-high totals for home runs and runs batted in. However, Mauer's long-list of achievements has sparked more talk about his future with the team.
In five years as a Major League Baseball player, Joe Mauer has achieved milestones that took other ballplayers their entire careers to reach. He's won three batting titles, two Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers -- and now the Most Valuable Player award.
Mauer accepted his latest award in front of friends, family and the media. And in his typical, low-key demeanor, Mauer tried to exppress how it felt, when Twins communications director Mike Herman told him he got the award.
"It's kind of surreal to hear Mike say those words, 'AL MVP.' A dream of mine was always to be in the big leagues," said Mauer. "Now, to think I'm an MVP is -- I don't know, I really can't describe it."
Mauer's MVP season got off to a rocky start. He missed most of spring training and the first month of play with a back injury.
But in his first game back, Mauer sent the first ball he swung at over the fence for a home run. He went on to hit a career high 28 home runs and hit a career best 96 runs batted in.
Mauer's teammate and friend Justin Morneau won the MVP award in 2006. Morneau sat out the last few weeks of this season with an injury, so he got to watch Mauer come close -- but not pass -- his 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
"I was cheering for him to get to 30. I was cheering for him to get to 100 RBI at the end of the year. I was hoping to see him do that," said Morneau. "The three batting titles, I think that's going to be tough for me to catch him on that one. But, it's good to see. It's fun. When I got the news, right after he did, I was grinning from ear to ear."
Morneau is currently the highest paid Twins player. His contract is reportedly worth $14 million a year for the next four years. But that could very well change, if and when Mauer signs a new contract with the team.
Mauer's deal with the Twins ends after next season. However, both Mauer and Twins GM Bill Smith declined to talk about how the MVP award may add to the pricetag of Mauer's next contract.
When Morneau recently signed his new contract with the Twins, he says he considered factors other than money to be important. And he thinks it may play out in a similar way for Mauer.
"The biggest thing now isn't the money. It isn't going to be that. It's going to be whether he feels like we can win every day with the players we have," Morneau said.
Twins fans are no doubt hoping that Mauer follows the example of past Twins heroes like Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, who stayed with the club, even though they could have made more money elsewhere.
Twins fans identify with Mauer. They like that he's a native son, born and raised in St. Paul. And they like Mauer's "aw-shucks" humility -- a quality that Mauer's father Jake says is partially genetic.
"Thankfully he takes after his mother," Jake Mauer said with a laugh. "He's been real good, real good. Down to earth. And you know, none of this stuff has changed him."
Jake Mauer added that he found out about the MVP award when Joe sent him a text message -- not a phone call -- with the big news.
Joe Mauer chuckled when a reporter told him about his father's comment. He was quick to add that his family does help keep his feet on the ground.
"They're my biggest fans, and they're my biggest critics. So, whatever you guys write bad about me, I'm sure I've heard it before, from them. But, like I said, they're my biggest fans and they want to see me do well. And I think, the support they give me is huge," he said.
Mauer says he'll start next season in much better physical shape than he did the beginning of this year. He says his back feels fine and he's looking forward to playing in the Twins' new ballpark next spring.
In the meantime, Twins officials say they'll be working to make sure the team's first season at Target Field isn't Mauer's last as a Minnesota Twin.