I have more admiration for Joe Mauer, the Minnesota Twins' starting catcher and 2009 Most Valuable Player than any other public figure I can think of.
Last week, Mauer signed an eight-year contract with the Twins that will pay him $184 million. To understand why a newly minted, multimillion dollar baseball player should be worthy of anyone's lasting admiration, you have to know more about Mauer.
Unlike so many of today's baseball stars who conduct coast-to-coast negotiations in pursuit of the last dollar, money doesn't interest Mauer.
As eye-popping a sum as $184 million is, Mauer could easily have earned more. Speculation among insiders is that if Mauer had filed for free agency two of baseball's richest teams, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, would have entered into a bidding war for his services.
The expert's consensus is that Mauer would have landed a $30 million contract for no less than 10 years. Had he signed with the Yankees, Mauer would have earned tens of millions more in endorsements and personal appearance fees.
What would compel a 27-year-old man to turn his back on a guaranteed $300 million, $116 million less than he committed to with the Twins?
There's lots reasons, none of them having to do with money.
Mauer was born in St. Paul and grew up a Twins fan. During the 1991 Twin World Series victory over the Atlanta Braves, Mauer rooted for Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett and for another local Minnesota-born star, Kent Hrbeck.
In high school, in addition to baseball, Mauer played basketball and football. Mauer became the only athlete named by USA Today as high school player of the year in two sports, baseball and football.
Then, in 2001, the Twins made Mauer its number one pick in the entire baseball draft. From that point on, Mauer launched into a path of local heroism that has no end in sight.
Along his path, Mauer accumulated three batting titles, three All-Star game selections, two Gold Gloves and in a near unanimous vote the MVP award. Mauer may have captured more American fans' hearts than any player since Mickey Mantle.
In short, Mauer may be the best catcher ever to play the position.
Last November, Mauer became the fifth MVP in Twins history. How he celebrated tells still more about Mauer than his baseball statistics. As far as Mauer was concerned, best idea was to bring every relative he could round up to the news conference.
They all showed up: parents, grandparents, brothers, nieces — all of them proud Minnesotans.
When Mauer signed his multimillion dollar contract, his agent Ron Shapiro invited him to dinner at the restaurant of his choice.
Mauer deferred and suggested instead that they pick up Italian take out so they could bring it home to share with his family.
With all the stories about greedy and misguided athletes dominating the sport page, Mauer's story is refreshing.
For baseball fans of long standing like me, Mauer's contract is mindful of another era when top players stayed with their team for their entire careers. To name a few, they include Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams and the aforementioned Mantle.
Stars who found themselves unexpectedly traded suffered from shock was often too much for them to bear.
In a world where the daily events rarely provide either comfort or a sense of stability, it's reassuring to know that at least through 2018 Joe Mauer, will be a Minnesota Twin.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.