MINNEAPOLIS -- John Russell was manager for Minnesota's Class AAA affiliate in 2001, the year the Twins drew voluminous criticism for drafting a hometown catcher with the No. 1 overall pick in the first-year-player draft.
Kid named Joe Mauer.
Same kid batting .429 after an eye-popping 4-for-4 display against the Pirates last night, raising a .326 career mark that trails only Rod Carew's .344 in Minnesota's franchise history among players with 2,000 plate appearances. Kirby Puckett's .318 is third.
"Not a bad pick, huh?" Russell said with a laugh.
Sure seemed that way to many at the time. Pitcher Mark Prior was the consensus top talent, but he and agent Scott Boras had set a new bar for his bonus -- he wound up with a record $10.5 million -- and the Twins signed Mauer for $5.15 million, less than half.
They were accused of being cheap, locally and nationally, much the same as the Pirates have been for years.
"The Twins took the player they felt was best at the time," Russell recalled. "Prior was the consensus No. 1, but Mark at that time didn't want to sign with the Twins and made that pretty clear. At the same time, Mauer was still there, a hometown kid, and the Twins liked him. His high school stats were ridiculous, and his football stats were even more ridiculous."
Mauer, born in St. Paul, was All-American in football, all-state in basketball and now, of course, is all-universe in baseball.
"You take criticism, but I don't think people understand the time that you spend getting to know these players before you draft them," Russell said. "It's not like you just watch them for a couple games or just listen to who everybody says is the best. They spend years on these guys."
He likened the process to the Pirates' recent selection of their first-round catcher, Tony Sanchez of Boston College. Most publications had him rated 20-30 spots lower than where the Pirates chose him at No. 4 overall.
"Our scouts took the player they felt was the best at that spot," Russell said. "The Twins did the same thing with Mauer. I saw Tony, and I like him. He's got a very solid base, some strength in his legs, good arm. He had a really good year with the bat. And you can tell he loves to play."
The Texas Rangers have inquired with the Pirates about trading for starter Ian Snell, but the Pirates have engaged no team seriously in such talks, largely because other teams value Snell as a reliever, and the Pirates will want a starter's worth in return.
Outfielder Brandon Moss was benched for a third game last night and likely will have a fourth tonight, with the Pirates facing left-handers each time.
Moss and hitting coach Don Long were out for early work, part of Long's plan to re-tighten Moss' swing back to where it was earlier in the month, before his current 0-for-15 slump brought a sizable step backward.
"This gives him some time," Russell said.
The Metrodome has few fans, with its ice-cold exterior, white roof that obscures popups and artificial turf, but shortstop Jack Wilson was delighted to see it.
"One more off the list," he said.
Wilson did not play in the Pirates' previous visit, in 2001, and, because he did so last night, he now has played in the stadiums for all 30 current teams in the majors, plus Montreal. The only actual stadiums left unchecked are the two new ones in New York.
• The Pirates signed five more players from their draft this month -- outfielders Jose Hernandez (23rd round) and Pat Irvine (33rd), right-handed pithcers Jason Erickson (24th) and Marc Baca (42nd), and shortstop Ty Summerlin (30th). The total signed is six.
• Of all the players Russell managed in eight years in Minnesota's system, only first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Michael Cuddyer still are with the Twins:.
• Pitcher Quinton Miller, the Pirates' $900,000 20th-round draft pick last summer, was assigned to short-season State College. The Spikes open play Friday.
• The Pirates and Central Blood Bank are having a blood drive today, noon to 7 p.m., at PNC Park's press conference room off General Robinson Street. Anyone donating will receive two tickets to the June 28 game against the Kansas City Royals.