Joe Mauer says veterans can stop Minnesota Twins losses
MINNESOTA Twins first baseman Joe Mauer excelled at American football, basketball and of course baseball during high school ... and familiarising himself with Australian rules football - with a slight twist - also came pretty naturally to him as well.
That was when multiple national championship-winning Perth Heat infielder and Australian representative Luke Hughes was at the Twins from 2010 to 2012.
The mad keen Aussie rules fan, who Mauer said had a big work ethic, introduced him to the game.
"He brought me an Australian rules football and I was throwing it like an American football," Mauer told APN.
That was because the 32-year-old once had a scholarship to play quarterback for two-time national championship-winning former coach, the legendary Bobby Bowden, at Florida State.
"That (American football) would've been a great route to go down," Mauer said.
"But I always wanted to play in the big leagues and I thank God for the opportunity."
Mauer's own route at the plate has had its ups and downs of late.
He hit two homers in a five-day span in early July, with a .264 season average seeing him hit six home runs.
But over his past 15 games, he has averaged just .196.
In further bleak news for Twins fans, the team (54-54) is now out of playoff position for the first time since May 3, after being swept 4-0 in its series away to Toronto.
Mauer, the No.3 batter for Minnesota, knows he needs to lead his team by example by picking up his consistency at the plate, if he wants to see his team make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
"It's a long season and you have these moments. We started out 1-6," he said.
"As a veteran guy I've just got to do my thing day in and day out.
"That's part of being a professional, just going out there and doing your best."
The veteran performances over the next month of Maurer - in his 12th season with his home state Minnesota, and 40-year-old right fielder Torii Hunter, will be vital to the Twins' hopes of breaking their playoff drought.
There is no longer an Aussie in the clubhouse to try and stop the Twins' slide.
Perth-born Hughes played his last MLB game in 2012, after homering off American League Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer (who threw a no-hitter in June) in his first at-bat for Minnesota in 2010.
That made him the first Twin to homer in his first at-bat since Andre David in 1984, and the fifth overall.
"He had a lot of energy. He worked hard," Mauer said of the 31-year-old Hughes.
So a lot falls on veterans such as Mauer and Hunter to pull the team out of a five-game losing slump (also including a 4-1 loss to Seattle before the away series against the Blue Jays).
Hunter is averaging .245 with 17 home runs this season.
But like Mauer, his form has dropped over his past 15 games, averaging just .164.
Hunter recently said he was keen to play on for another season next year.
And Mauer said that experience will be crucial as the Twins fight to stay in playoff contention.
"He's really doing a great job with some of our outfielders," Mauer said of Hunter.
"He's been around for a long time, and 18 years in the big leagues just doesn't happen easily.
"He's worked hard over his career, still works hard and leads by example.
"He's great to have in the clubhouse."
The Twins will need all the experience they can get in what has been a bumpy start to August.