Joe Mauer emerged out of the Twins dugout in his catcher’s gear before the 9th inning of Sunday’s game and everything was perfect. You forgot the Twins were under .500 and long since eliminated from playoff contention. That it had been almost a decade since Mauer had won the American League MVP. That it had been five years since a concussion ended his tenure behind the plate. That time, injuries and a huge contract had eroded his skills and opened him up to public ridicule. Joe was just the kid from St. Paul who spent 15 seasons with the hometown team and made us proud. It was beautiful.
Like all brushes with perfection however, the moment was fleeting and Mauer, in what appears to be his final game, left after just one pitch to an emotional ovation and a series of hugs. Chris Gimenez quietly slid in as his replacement. The 35-year-old journeyman catcher spent most of the 2018 season at Triple A Iowa in the Cubs organization before the Twins reacquired him for fellow backstop Bobby Wilson on August 30. Sunday was likely Gimenez’ last major league appearance as well.
Over 10 big league seasons with Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa, Texas, Minnesota and the Cubs, Gimenez played in 386 games, batted .218/.307/.344, collected 202 hits with 24 homeruns in 1067 plate appearances. A 19th round draft pick by Cleveland in 2004, the Gilroy, CA native also grinded his way through 984 minor league contests. Mauer was the superstar, Gimenez was the type of guy who gave him a day off once a week. And was happy to do it.
Incredibly approachable, genuinely friendly and refreshingly honest, Gimenez and I chatted during the final week of the season.
DZ: It’s been a kind of long season for you. Interesting, I guess. Can you summarize that?
GIMENEZ: Very interesting, to say the least. It’s definitely been a trying year. You draw things up in spring training or the off season of how you want it to go down, and it basically went the exact opposite from everything that you draw. But you know what? It’s kind of turned out to be better for worse, I guess you could say, just because I ended up coming back here and that was kind of a godsend for me. I think it was something that I was very, very lucky to have the opportunity to do that, and to have an organization that wanted me to come back I think shows that at least somebody here liked me.
ADDISON REED (at his locker nearby): I like you, too.
GIMENEZ (to Reed): My man.
DZ: Where were you when you found out about the trade back here?
GIMENEZ: I was in Iowa. I was actually in the outfield. We had a 12:00 day game, and I was FaceTiming with my wife and kids before they had to go to school. And I got told by my manager that they couldn’t use me today; I wasn’t in the starting lineup but he couldn’t use me. And he said we think we’ve just traded you, and I was kind of like — It definitely threw me off guard. I was not anticipating that, not expecting that. I thought I was actually getting called back up in September anyway and going to go have a chance to hopefully win the division and go to the playoffs and do something hopefully pretty cool again. But found out I got traded, and that’s the way it went.
DZ: …So you’re just kind of taking it day by day and enjoying this last week or so?
GIMENEZ: You know what…This year was tough just from a mental side for me. And not to take anything away from how it went down, but I hadn’t been in Triple A for a few years and I think it was tough just from the grind of how the travel goes, the season; not having my family out there was the biggest part of it. And I think that all kind of affected me mentally and put me in a spot where I was like, okay, I really started thinking is something that I want to continue to do? Be away from my wife and kids? Not to experience those things that — my poor wife’s dealing with three kids in the middle of the night that are all awake and sick, or going to soccer games or baseball games, and stuff like that.
But I think having a chance to come back here and really just have fun again, I think was the biggest thing. I wasn’t having a lot of fun, and getting a chance to come back here, that changed instantly. I think my wife’s really noticed a difference in it, and I genuinely feel happy here. And I think that’s something, if you have the opportunity to do that, I recommend doing that.
DZ: When you were in the minors…did you ever think, “I’m getting too old for this?”
GIMENEZ: I’ve thought of that about four billion times this year. I was seven or eight years older than anyone. I was the oldest guy in the league for a good bit of it, the time when I was there. And that’s not really that cool of a thing. People are like, “That’s kinda cool.” No, it’s not really that cool. If it was in the big leagues that’s one thing; the oldest guy in Triple A, that’s another. You just start thinking, okay, is it time? Is it time to shut it down and go do something different? And I still feel great. I feel like I have a lot to offer, and I think it’s only natural for those thoughts to creep into your head.
DZ: Sure, yeah. That’s cool that you can be honest about it, too.
GIMENEZ: Yeah, right. right. I don’t see the reason to stash it away or lying about it.
DZ: If you were to shut it down, do you have any plans? Would you like to be a manager, coach, anything like that?
GIMENEZ: You know what? I’m kind of open to all suggestions at this point. If I did decide to shut it down, I think we’d take it on a case by case basis. I know that people say this all the time, but my wife’s going to be a big part of that decision just because she’s been with me from the very beginning. It’s been 15 years, and now that we have three kids, sometimes you’ve got to put the things that you thought selfishly about for the last few years, and you’ve got some other people to make happy now. If it works out for the family, then we’re all for it. And whatever we decide to do, we’ll make it work.
DZ: Going back a year, obviously it was kind of a different vibe around here a year ago. Lot of fun, you were in the middle of everything. What stands out?
GIMENEZ: You know what? Honestly, I really don’t feel the vibe being that much different aside from the fact that we’re not going to the playoffs this year. I think this team, because I follow it very closely from afar, but they had to deal with a lot of adversity this year, whether it be injuries or just logistical issues, snow or going to Puerto Rico, and keeping things out of the norm. I give the guys in this clubhouse a lot of credit because they’ve kept it together. And really, it’s given us an opportunity as an organization to get some fresh faces in here; have those guys get an opportunity to play at this level and start creating a new core, I think is what it is.
We’ve got some guys that are getting on the older end, me and Joe, and we don’t really know what’s going to happen with him. And I think he’s earned every bit of that right to make that decision on his own. But to have an opportunity and the experience, to have some of these young guys get a chance to see what you did (September 25), I think that’s undervalued at times. (Mauer’s) gotten on base more times than any baseball player in the history of this organization. That’s an incredible accomplishment. Just to be around and see stuff like that is pretty darned cool. I don’t care if you’re not playing for the playoffs or not.
DZ: Just coming in here, too, watching from, obviously, the outside, this team definitely hasn’t quit.
GIMENEZ: No, gosh no. And you should never quit, I don’t care who you are. I think that’s been a big focus, is really finishing out strong. Because number one, there’s always somebody watching and you’re always playing for something. And that’s something that we stress to these younger guys is the fact that any chance you get a day to come in here and put on a big league uniform and go out there and play, you need to not take it for granted and treat that with the respect that it deserves.
DZ: Just one last thing. After this week’s over, what do you have planned for the off season?
GIMENEZ: Some much needed family time, for sure. My poor wife has been 10 months with three kids by herself, so I think basically being a daddy daycare, driving kids to school. I’m going on a hunting trip in two weeks to my grandparent’s house, so that’ll be a ton of fun. But yeah, just kind of hanging out and enjoying the family. Potentially going over some options of what next year might hold, or the future in general might hold, and maybe being a real dad now.
See more of David Zingler’s 2018 player interviews:
September 29: Trevor May: Fortnite Edition
September 10: Jake Cave
September 5: Max Kepler
September 1: Tyler Austin
August 28: Oliver Drake
August 25: Trevor May
July 26: Lindsay Whalen
June 29: Tanisha Wright
June 8: Logan Morrison
June 4: Mitch Garver
April 17: Brian Dozier
April 15: Ryan LaMarre
April 14: Addison Reed
January 27: Chip Lohmiller