CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and former two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay were among nine inducted into the Florida State League Hall of Fame Class of 2016 during a ceremony on Tuesday night.
Mauer, the '09 American League MVP and a six-time All-Star, played for the Class A Fort Myers Miracle in '03 and '04. The No. 1 pick in the '01 Draft, Mauer said that the FSL was his first real introduction to what life would be like in the Major Leagues.
"You're playing in the big league stadiums -- the Spring Training homes of the big league teams," Mauer said. "I remember the playing surfaces were so nice in the FSL."
Mauer is considered to be one of the best high school athletes of all time and he's the only athlete to be named USA Today High School Player of the Year in two sports -- football and baseball. As the top-rated college football prospect in the nation, Mauer committed to play quarterback at Florida State University before ultimately choosing to enter the MLB Draft.
"A lot of the fans around of the FSL would tell me that they wished I would have played football," Mauer said. "Especially the FSU fans."
His decision turned out to be the right one, as Mauer is one of the best-hitting catchers of all time. He is the only catcher to win three batting titles and the only catcher to win a batting title in the American League. He holds the highest single-season (.365) and career average (.328) for a catcher.
When he looks back on his career and road to the Major Leagues, Mauer said he had some of his favorite experiences playing in the FSL.
"When I came down here in 2003, we had a really good team," Mauer said. "I think at the time we set a record for wins. We had Jason Kubel and a lot of great players on that team. Some of my favorite memories of pro ball in general were in the Minor Leagues. It was so much fun because you're young and with a bunch of guys like you who all shared the same goal."
Mauer came into the FSL with a lot of fanfare as a former top pick who was expected to be the face of the franchise from his home state. However, he said he never let the pressure get to him and always tried to focus on putting in the work to become a Major Leaguer.
"It's all I knew, really, and I think it was something I was kind of used to," Mauer said. "The end goal was to work hard and get to the big leagues and stay there for a long time. I knew that it was a process and it wouldn't happen overnight."
Halladay played for the Dunedin Blue Jays in 1996 and again for a half season in 2001.
When he returned to the Majors after his second stint in the Minors, Halladay became a force on the mound. He made the All-Star Game in '02, his first of eight appearances, and won the AL Cy Young Award in '03 with Toronto and the NL Cy Young Award in '10 with Philadelphia.
Halladay finished his career with a 203-105 record and 2,117 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA.
Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said during his introduction that "this is the first of many Hall of Fames [Halladay] will be inducted into." He will be eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in '18.
Halladay spoke of his return to the FSL in '01 as a changing point in his career.
"I had gotten sent from the Major Leagues back to A-ball and had to start all over again," Halladay said. "At that point, I had to sit down and decide which way to go. That's where I felt like if I was going to do anything, I wanted to do it the very best that I could and leave everything on the table. If it worked I could live with myself, if it didn't I could live with myself."
Halladay's business-like demeanor on the mound was also the subject of a story from former Major Leaguer Travis Hafner, who was also inducted into the FSL Hall of Fame.
"I would look at him on the mound and wonder, 'Why is he so mad at me?'" Hafner said. "So I did want to anger him by taking a big swing so I just hoped to hit something on the ground to the left side."
Other inductees included Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, former Phillies first-base coach and Minor League manager Marc Bombard, former Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates manager Gene Lamont, Northwoods Baseball League president and co-founder Dick Radatz Jr., former FSL executive Don Miers and recently retired Major League umpire John Hirschbeck.