FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Joe Mauer stood in front of his locker inside Hammond Stadium on Thursday morning, staring at the large pile of boxes spilling out around it, and remarked about how some things never change -- such as the process of unpacking at the start of Spring Training. But, while some of the annual rites of spring remain the same, Mauer admits that life is a little less chaotic for him heading into camp than it was in 2010. At this time last year, Mauer's contract was the big topic of discussion surrounding the Twins. The All-Star catcher endured more than a month's worth of questions and speculation about his future before signing an eight-year, $184 million contract extension on March 21.
And now, as Twins pitchers and catchers reported officially on Thursday, Mauer is looking forward to a spring where his focus can be solely on baseball. "A little less hectic offseason, which is good," Mauer said as he unpacked his locker. "It was kind of a circus last year, but it's a different feeling this year." Mauer couldn't completely avoid contract talk this week, however. The catcher was in New York and Connecticut over the past couple days as part of a media tour to promote "MLB 11 The Show" since he's on the cover of the video game for the second straight year. The timing coincided with the news on Wednesday that Albert Pujols' deadline for his contract extension talks with the Cardinals had passed without a deal getting done. And there were plenty of questions for Mauer about the topic. "I guess I just had great timing," Mauer joked about not being able to avoid contract talk. Mauer's own contract distractions are in the past, but it's the health of his left knee drawing attention heading into this spring. The 27-year-old underwent minor surgery on his knee in mid-December to relieve irritation in the joint, which caused him to miss nine games at the end of September last season. Mauer said that his knee is well enough for him to take part in Friday's first workout for pitchers and catchers, but he stressed that his focus is on making sure that he's ready for Opening Day. "One thing is you've got to realize it's Spring Training," Mauer said. "Your ultimate goal is to get ready for April 1st, not February 20th, and we're going to take it easy and make sure I'm healthy for the year." Mauer said that he continues to receive regular treatment on his knee, which includes working on strengthening exercises and "things specific to getting me back to normal." Mauer was then asked how close his knee is to being normal. "I knew you were going to ask me that," Mauer said. "You'll see me out there running around, doing everything I need to do [Friday]. So, I'm just trying to take it easy." Mauer's knee wasn't the only injury that the catcher battled last year. He was banged up with a variety of ailments throughout the 2010 season. That included a deep bruise in his left heel, which caused him to miss a week of playing time in early May, and soreness in his left knee that bothered him for the final few weeks of the season, affecting him during the playoffs as well. The Twins are expected to limit Mauer's workload in Spring Training to try to keep him as healthy as possible for the start of the season. The All-Star catcher wants a chance to catch many of the new pitchers that are in camp this spring, but he knows he'll have to balance that with making sure he doesn't try to do too much early on. Mauer said he's yet to talk with manager Ron Gardenhire about an exact plan for his catching load this spring, but the two will talk soon about it. "I'm just here trying to get ready for the season," Mauer said. "I'll talk with Gardy and see what they really want me to do, but the main goal is to be ready for the season, the start of the season, and the whole year."