Five-time All-Star goes 1-for-1 after entering game in eighth inning
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SAS CITY -- When asked Monday what makes each All-Star Game different, Joe Mauer responded with two words: "The city."
The city that hosted the 83rd All-Star Game on Tuesday -- Kansas City -- is special to Mauer for multiple reasons. He said it's one of his favorite road cities, and the fact that it's one of the shorter trips from Minnesota meant he had 20 friends and family in attendance. Plus, Mauer has always had great success at Kauffman Stadium.
"It's a great atmosphere. It's a great baseball city. I was looking forward to this game being here," Mauer said. "It was great to see them cheer Billy Butler, too."
Mauer and the American Leaguers fell, 8-0, to the National League. Mauer had a brief supporting role, entering the game as a first baseman in the top of the eighth inning. He batted once, in the bottom of the ninth, singling up the middle off Arizona's Wade Miley.
Mauer said he was somewhat surprised to have played first base, especially when he was named to the team as a catcher.
"Obviously, I was a little surprised by it," Mauer said. "I brought my first baseman's glove along just in case, and I'm glad I did."
But the main thing about the experience in Kansas City that stuck out for Mauer, who played in his fifth Midsummer Classic on Tuesday, was that the city is the home of George Toma.
Toma is a legendary baseball groundskeeper, who has spent the majority of his decades-long career in Kansas City, first with the Athletics and then for many years with the Royals. It was recently announced that Toma was elected to the Royals Hall of Fame.
But Toma calls a different city -- Fort Myers, Fla. -- his home during Spring Training, where he works at the Twins' Grapefruit League facility.
Mauer and Toma were able to share a special moment Monday, ahead of the State Farm Home Run Derby. The two walked to home plate to participate in the ceremonial first pitch, being delivered by Hall of Famer -- and former Kansas City Athletic -- Reggie Jackson. Mauer exchanged his glove for Toma's rake, allowing the legendary groundskeeper to receive the pitch.
And the reunion of the two wasn't finished Monday. During the AL's batting practice ahead of Tuesday's game, more words were exchanged between the two as a working Toma walked by a stretching Mauer.
"He's great," Mauer said. "I've known him my whole career, being down there at Spring Training in Fort Myers. It's funny, I'm usually one of the first ones there to the ballpark. I've never beat him. We always have our little morning chat heading in, and when I leave, he's one of the last ones to leave, and so am I. I've gotten to know him over the last few years, a great guy, and he does a great job, great work."
Toma's Hall of Fame induction will occur before a game against the Twins, so that Toma's Spring Training team would be able to celebrate as well.
Mauer said he enjoyed spending the last couple days with Toma.
"It was awesome," Mauer said. "I knew he was going to be here. I didn't know he was getting inducted into the Hall of Fame and all that. I'm glad we're going to be in town for that when we come back. He's a great guy, and he works hard. I appreciate playing on one of his fields."
Mauer returned to the Midsummer Classic following a year's absence. He battled injuries during much of last season, and appeared in only 82 games. But after matching or eclipsing most of the totals he racked up last season in 2012's first half, he was back to his usual place on the American League All-Star roster. Mauer is batting .326 in 77 games and leads the AL with a .416 on-base percentage.
While he has only picked up three hits in five career All-Star Games, the Midsummer Classic has been a bit of a good-luck charm for Mauer. In the four previous seasons that he's made the AL All-Star team, he has also finished in the top eight in MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger.
Hopefully for Mauer and the Twins, 2012 is no different.
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com.