While I have no doubt that Mauer will receive a very positive reception from the crowd at Target Field, I wouldn't be surprised to hear a few boo birds mixed in with the predominant cheers. There are folks out there, even among the media and perhaps within the organization, who are legitimately angry with Mauer over this whole ordeal.
Such a reaction strikes me as irrational, yet understandable.
Confusion breeds anger, and there's been no shortage of confusion surrounding the ailment that has cost Joe Mauer nearly half of his 2011 season. In a press conference held yesterday to address the catcher's lengthy absence, Bill Smith gave the following convoluted, nonsensical description:
In its simplest form, bilateral leg weakness means he had weakness in both legs. The majority of that was due to the knee surgery he had in December, and if you take the extremes much further, to bilateral leg weakness, there’s a lot of very challenging results that can happen.Ah, well then.
As with almost everything we've heard from Twins officials with regards to Mauer's injury, this quote doesn't actually tell us a thing. We get that Mauer had weak legs. We get that it was related to his offseason knee surgery. What we don't get is why a 28-year-old premier athlete needed seven months to get his legs back under him after a procedure that was deemed minor.
Now we wait apprehensively to see how his legs react to the rigors of regular catching after a nebulous rehab, and wonder whether he'll be able to recapture the explosiveness that followed his last extended layoff (he posted a 1.338 OPS with 11 homers in May of 2009 after missing all of March and April).
A similar explosion right off the bat seems unlikely. As Buster Olney noted earlier this week, Ron Gardenhire has "cautioned against immediate expectations."
Fortunately, the team's recent winning run takes a world of pressure of Mauer's shoulders. If the Twins were still slumping, fans would be yearning for him to gallop in like a white knight and singlehandedly reverse the club's fortunes.
With the starting pitching starting to click, the bullpen avoiding meltdowns (at least for the time being) and some key role players finally beginning to do their parts, all Mauer needs to do is come in and outhit the likes of Drew Butera and Rene Rivera, which he should be able to do handily even if he exhibits some initial rust and fatigue.