Joe Mauer had practiced his speech plenty of times the past few weeks, hoping that would help him keep his composure when he had to deliver it live.
This wasn’t like stepping into the box after taking batting practice though. Stoic Joe was no match for this moment.
Mauer saw a video of him and his brothers playing Wiffle ball in the backyard as kids, and his emotions came rushing out.
“Wearing the No. 7 the past 15 years has been my absolute pleasure,” he said into a microphone with 39,000 fans listening intently. “And being able to play my entire career in that number in front of my family, friends and fans here at home means more to me than any of you will ever know.”
Mauer paused to collect himself. The Target Field crowd rose to its feet for another standing ovation for No. 7, a number never to be worn again by a Twins player after the organization officially retired it Saturday evening.
Everything about the pregame ceremony felt pitch-perfect, even the weather, which offered only a few sprinkles before clearing up, despite ominous forecasts all day.
The weather gods refused to let it rain on Mauer’s moment.
And what a moment it was, a first-class event that included appearances from a who’s who of Twins royalty, a surprise visit from Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench and a video message from hip-hop artist T.I., whose song “What You Know” served as Mauer’s walk-up song for 13 seasons.
The Twins checked every box in throwing this party.
“Everything was a surprise the last couple of days,” Mauer said.
The pomp and circumstance underscored Mauer’s impact in a 15-year career spent entirely with his hometown team.
No. 7 blanketed Target Field, inside and out. Mauer’s number was painted on the grass in front of both dugouts. Cardboard cutouts of No. 7 were placed in seats throughout the stadium. Twins players wore a special patch honoring Mauer on their right sleeves. Even the game balls were stamped with Mauer’s name, number and image.
Mauer became the eighth Twins player or manager to have his number retired. No. 7 now hangs on the facade in foul territory along the left field line, in between Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 and Tom Kelly’s No. 10.
It would be hard to top Mauer’s final game in theater, the scene of him retreating to the clubhouse to put on his catcher’s gear for one final curtain call. That moment caused an outbreak of goose bumps.
He waved goodbye in tears that day. He did the same again Saturday, this time surrounded by family and former teammates, coaches and front-office officials past and present.
“Everybody loves Joe,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
They came from near and far to salute him. The list of dignitaries included Tony-O, TK, Carew, Black Jack, Hrbek, Bert, Radke, Guardado, Morneau and Hunter. More than 30 former teammates joined him on the field, along the third base line.
His family sat along the other base line. Let’s just say the Mauer clan of St. Paul would rival a college marching band in size.
The ceremony featured videos of Mauer’s childhood narrated by his parents, a montage of all his commercials and tributes from former teammates and opponents. The organization presented him with several gifts, including home plate from his final game.
“I was giving everybody here with the Twins, I was like, ‘You guys like me? You’re trying to make me cry every second of the day here this weekend,’ ” he said.
His speech went longer than he anticipated, clocking in at nearly 11 minutes. Typical Mauer, always long-winded.
“I’m 36 years old, spent 18 years [with the organization], that’s half of my life as a Minnesota Twin,” he said after the ceremony. “The other half was a fan of the Twins. Now I’m back to being a fan, which is a lot of fun, especially with how well the boys are doing this year.”
Mauer said he’s watched a handful of games this season and is happy to see the team’s success. He said the competitor in him would “love to be a part of what they’re doing,” but he’s content in this next phase of his life. He gets to devote all his time and energy to his wife and three young kids.
“Everybody I talk to says, ‘Oh, you’ve got all this time on your hands,’ ” he said. “I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.”
The last line of Mauer’s speech was a subtle gem.
“Go get ’em tonight boys,” he said, causing the crowd to roar.
The ceremony concluded with Mauer throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and probably many sniffles in the crowd.
Mauer’s mom, Teresa, brought the ball out to the mound and hugged him. His father, Jake, stood at home plate, glove on his hand, waiting to catch a pitch from his son.