MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Twins had one chance to retire the jersey of one of the best players in the history of the organization Saturday night.
They didn't disappoint. A ceremony for Joe Mauer that lasted about 45 minutes, including a roughly 12-minute speech from Mauer himself, ended with his legendary No. 7 jersey being unveiled in left field. It now hangs next to No. 10 Tom Kelly, who managed the Twins to World Series wins in 1987 and 1991.
Mauer is the eighth Twin to have his jersey retired.
The ceremony had Mauer fighting tears at times and the sold-out crowd on its feet for ovations.
"I was giving everybody with the Twins here, I was like ‘Do you guys like me? You're trying to make me cry every second of the day here this weekend,'" Mauer said. "It's been an unbelievable day."
More than 30 former Twins players were in attendance Saturday night, at least 20 of whom were teammates of Mauer during his 15 years with the club. Among them were Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Brad Radke, Trevor Plouffe, Torii Hunter, Eddie Guardado, Jim Thome and Paul Molitor, just to name a few.
The ceremony included the five current living Twins who had their jerseys retired – Tom Kelly, Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, Tony Oliva and Bert Blyleven -- all walking out from left field to take their seats.
"It's unbelievable. It still kind of chokes me up a little bit. Everyone we asked and the Twins asked came back. That to me means everything," Mauer said.
Even Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench was in attendance.
Mauer's 15-year career with the Twins on the baseball side pretty much speaks for itself. He was their No. 1 overall draft choice in 2001, and he played his first full season in Minnesota in 2005.
In eight years as a catcher, he won three battling titles and was the MLB MVP in 2009. He won three Gold Glove awards and was a six-time All-Star. He had a lifetime batting average of .306, and hit over .300 in six of his eight seasons behind the plate.
Mauer played 923 games at catcher before having to move to first base after concussion issues. He played more than 1,500 games between catching and first base. He finished his career with 428 doubles, 143 home runs, 1,018 runs scored and 923 RBI.
"I'm 36 years old, and 18 years here. That's half my life as a Minnesota Twin, and the other half as a fan of the Twins," Mauer said.
Not bad for a guy who grew up about 10 minutes from where he spent his entire career as a professional baseball player.
"Whenever you think of him, you think of Minnesota. I think that's one of this generation's guys that pops in your head when you think of the Minnesota Twins," said Michael Cuddyer, who played seven seasons with Mauer.
Justin Morneau is as close to Mauer as anyone when it comes to former teammates. The two were virtually inseparable in their early years with the Twins, and Morneau often hit behind Mauer in the lineup. He said during Saturday's retirement ceremony he had the best seat in the house as a witness to history.
He was referring mostly to Mauer's 2009 MVP season. He hit .365 to win his third batting title, with 28 homers and 96 RBI after missing the first month of the season. A year later, he signed a $184 million contract to keep him with the Twins the rest of his career.
"Numbers don't get retired by fate. They get retired as a salute to a legendary career," Morneau said.
Mauer was introduced Saturday by long-time Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer. Fittingly, he walked up with rapper TI's song "What You Know" playing. It was his walk-up song for most of his career.
"It was 2006, a newer song that came out. I picked TI and I had a really good week. So I said if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Mauer said. "Fans would tell me that they knew every time that I came up to the plate when they were at a ballgame when that song played, and they would stop and watch. When I started hearing things like that, I was like this is my song."
The pregame tribute to Mauer included three videos, one of him growing up with his family and around sports with his brothers. Another featured commercials throughout his early years with the Twins that gave the Target Field crowd several laughs.
Lastly, a video tribute to his playing career. Everything from his first big league hit to Nos. 1,000 and 2,000, various highlights as a catcher, celebrating division titles with fans and lastly, his last game with the Twins. It also featured congratulatory messages from Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad, Ron Gardenhire, Bench, Ichiro Suzuki, Giants catcher Buster Posey and Albert Pujols.
Kyle Gibson was one of Mauer's teammates last season, and tossed eight shut-out innings in a win Friday night. He was on the top step with many of his current teammates during Saturday's ceremony.
"To get the chance to be out there for it and experience one of the highest honors a team can do for a guy, it's going to be a pretty emotional and fun night," Gibson said.
Rocco Baldelli never got the chance to manage Mauer, but knows with sellout crowds anticipated all weekend and the Twins being among the best teams in baseball, it's the perfect time to honor the hometown legend.
"It's just one of those things where it's a wonderful outcome of his story all the way around. This is a great night for Joe and for his family," Baldelli said. "Everybody loves Joe."
Mauer was serenaded with gifts before his No. 7 jersey was unveiled. Included were the actual home plate from last year's final game, a glass trophy No. 7 and a congratulatory video and record from TI for Mauer's walk-up song.
The final moment was perhaps the best. With Father's Day Sunday, Mauer got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to his father, with his mother standing next to him.
"It's special. This whole weekend the Twins have been great, trying to include my family and friends. Got my Mom and Dad out there for that moment. I was real nervous, I hadn't thrown a ball in a while," Mauer said.
The Twins capped off the celebratory day with a 5-4 win over the Royals. Max Kepler's 17th homer of the season in the bottom of the fourth got the Twins within 2-1. Trailing 4-1 in the fifth, the Twins scored three runs to tie the game. Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run homer to right center, and Jorge Polanco doubled to left to score Ehire Adrianza.
Mauer's replacement at first base, C.J. Cron, delivered the game-winning hit in the sixth with a double to left, scoring Eddie Rosario. The Twins improve to 47-22 with the win.