Twins Talk, June 3 03 Jun 16

Twins Talk

NBA Referee Ken Mauer Would Love to “Bar You” from Poor Health!

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

A few weeks ago, I told you about the unofficial Pioneer Press and Dispatch headquarters of the ‘70s: a pub called Luigi’s Bar. I failed to tell you that our favorite bartender happened to be my high school pal Ken Mauer Jr. – Joe Mauer’s second cousin. Kenny was tending bar to earn a few extra bucks while he played Gopher baseball and attended the University of Minnesota. As a Gopher, he was an infielder –alongside another St. Paul lad named Paul Molitor. As you know, Paul went on to become a Hall of Fame ballplayer and the manager of the Minnesota Twins. Although Ken had some major-league offers, he found his calling as an NBA referee. He has a reputation as one of basketball’s finest, and officiated Game 1 of the NBA finals this past Thursday.

I had a chance to visit with my longtime friend the other night, when he was in town to tend to some family business. As we sat at the table, he spoke with enthusiasm — as usual. He told me about growing up as a Mauer:  “Our whole life has been sports — my entire family. My dad, my uncle, my brothers, my cousins – everyone who knows the family or even knows the name knows we are affiliated with sports. There are other things I might call more important, but sports have always been a very dominating part of our lives.”

His dad, Ken Sr., played in the Dodgers’ system, his uncles were pro ballplayers, and his father became a well-known high school teacher, coach, and referee. Ken’s brother Tommy is a referee in the WNBA.

I told Ken that I believe every Minnesotan knows at least one Mauer. He replied, “And the ones who don’t, if they took the time to get to know us, they’d find that we are God-fearing people who love our families, love our parents, love sports, love to compete, and try to be good citizens.”

I asked Ken if he knew long ago that Joe Mauer and Joe’s brothers Billy and Jake, who were also drafted by the Twins, were pro ball[GJ1] -bound. He said, “I love my father; there’s not a finer man around. But his brother, my Uncle Jake (Joe’s Grandpa), man…it’s hard not to like my Uncle Jake — and he’s my godfather – I love him and I’ve always been close to him. But what he did for those boys! His only son (Jake II) was a good ballplayer thanks to Jake (senior), too. But what he did for his grandsons. He basically raised those three grandkids. You could tell they were special. They would always be hitting in the yard, going with Jake wherever they could to see sporting events, and they were all blessed with great talent. Even Teresa, their mother, was pretty talented as an athlete. So they had pretty good genes going all the way back to their grandfather. Not only Joe, but Jake (Joe’s brother Jake III) and Billy were good athletes, too. But I look at it differently being related to them. I don’t care how many hits or home runs they’ve achieved, they’re good kids – good people, and that’s what I like about them more than anything.”

Ken talks fondly about refereeing and can tell great stories about games and calls he made on players — from Michael Jordan to Charles Barkley. He says he truly admires Barkley, but he said that reffing him was a real challenge. Once, he said he literally begged him not to raise any more havoc in a game, and if Barkley continued to do so, he would have to toss him, and that would cost him money. Barkley’s comeback was: “I really don’t care, kid…I make ten times what you do.” But they are good friends now, and Mauer said, “He’s a hell of a man.”

Ken went on to tell me that incidents like that are few and far between. He has earned the players’ and the coaches’ respect through experience…and the biggest difference in his current style is that he has become more of a communicator. He learned to be more approachable, and will take the time to approach others as well. He shows respect to those on the court, and in return gets that respect back. “But it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about being part of the whole experience.”

I asked Ken about his relationship with Paul Molitor. “I was close with ‘Molly’ in high school. Then in college, we played together. We don’t get a chance to talk as much as I’d like. I’ve always thought the world of Paul Molitor. What people don’t realize is what kind of a guy he is. When times have been tough in my life, or things just aren’t going my way, I’ve gotten phone calls from Paul. Those are the things you don’t forget. He always reaches out to you if there’s a funeral or a wake, or a tough time in someone’s life. At least with the people I know, he has always been there. He’s a great guy! He was a great ballplayer…everyone knows that, but those other things are what I remember most about Paul.” 

What’s new with Ken besides his officiating the NBA championships? He’s pretty excited about his new protein bar from “Mauer Sports Nutrition”. I’ve witnessed Ken eating pretty healthfully since high school. He is proud to attest he has never had an alcoholic beverage or smoked any kind of tobacco. His entire life, he has been interested in nutrition.

“It’s amazing!” he said. “People care about their golf game, they care about their car, they care about their financial planning, but they don’t care about what goes into their bodies. As I’ve gotten older, I began to think. My mom died of dementia; other people I know have died at a young age; and with the help of my wife, Danielle, I’ve done some research. We’ve worked with doctors, nutritionists, and trainers, and I’ve realized that what we’re eating is a shame. I was so stupid. Now I read (labels) before I eat. You know, people are always worried about fat and calories. That doesn’t mean a thing. There are good calories and good fat. People should worry about the chemicals that go into their bodies.”

Ken has been around sports and locker rooms all of his life, and said there have always been energy bars, and he has tried them all. He said he has tried more than 100 different types of protein bars. Then he decided to find out what was in them, and it wasn’t all good. He discovered that he hadn’t been eating as healthful a diet as he thought, and he began to modify his food intake. But then, being a competitive Mauer, he decided to take it one step further and create his own, perfect product, Mauer Sports Nutrition Classic Protein Bars. They contain all healthful ingredients, and people say that they taste good. They are already catching on, and are now available at SuperAmerica, Cub, and online at mauersportsnutrition.com. The nutrition bars come in various flavors, but I’m going to try dark chocolate caramel macadamia first, as soon as my order comes in. I’ll give you my verdict later.