Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joe Nathan = Class Human Being

With the news Twins closer Joe Nathan has a ligament tear in his elbow that will him the 2010 season people are spending time speculating on his replacement or highlighting his past achievements. This is only normal since we tend to value athletes by what they have or have not done on the playing field. However, I wanted to talk about Joe Nathan the man.

I met Joe Nathan for the first time in 2007. He had been with the Twins 3 years, but I had never gotten around to getting his autograph. He was at Twinsfest signing with Ron Gardenhire on a Friday night. I saw Joe Nathan close up for the first time. He was tall with curly hair. He looked like a dude who should have been in a rock band. He signed my card with what I have come to find is one of the signatures in baseball. I soon found out he was into rock music and made weekly appearances on 93X the hard rock station here in the Twins Cities. I first impressions of him had proved correct.

I meet Joe Nathan again a year later. This time he was signing at a Cub Foods. This there was no one else but me and him around. I am not kidding. I showed up a half hour into his signing time and he was just sitting there with nothing to do. He graciously signed a ball and a card for me. He took the time to talk with me for 5 minutes. I sure he really would have preferred to be elsewhere. After all I spent a lot of time gushing how happy I was that he was on the team and how important he was to the team. Still he tolerated me. He just seemed like a great guy who was happy to be in the position he was in.

Over the years I have seen Joe Nathan make numerous appearances in public to sign autographs. He was never too big, too important to come out and meet the fans. Joe Nathan always seemed to be deeply involved in the team’s charity work. On his Website he would post pictures of these charity events. You could see Joe and his wife amongst the common people. They were not above being nice to whomever they met.

I have run into him a time or two again. He was always gracious. Joe Nathan has always kind enough to sign things I sent to him in the mail. Again he never was to “good” not to be kind to fans. That has been noticed by fans of other teams. On Web communities dedicated to collecting autographs through the mail, the name Joe Nathan is mention with reverence. He is much loved for taking the time sign for fans.

Depending on how he recovers from his surgery Joe Nathan may have made his last appearance for the Twins. If so he will the following moment to remember. The Twins had just lost to the Yankees in the 2009 ALDS. It was the last Twins game ever at the Metrodome. Nathan had blown a 2 run in lead back in Game 2 that if he had held the series might have been different. Now the Twins were done for the 2009 season, Twins baseball in the Metrodome would be no more. Fans were still lingering around when suddenly Joe Nathan, still in full uniform, jogged to the pitching mound. He wanted to gather up some dirt from the Metrodome pitching mound to take and spread on the new pitching mound at Target Field. Fans spotted him and cheered him loudly. Even though he had blown a critical game earlier in the series, fans knew what Joe Nathan meet to the Twins on and off the field. Nathan admitted afterwards he was stunned at the greeting. He should not have been, but often kind people are humble people.

I am glad Joe Nathan got those cheers. If his career with the Twins is over and he never appearances in a game again, he will have that moment where fans let him know how much he meant to them. Best of luck to you Joe Nathan, you are more than a great relief pitcher you are a class man.