Rebuilding a Home
Photos and Stories by Gordy Jones
I am always looking for a positive spin to put on a bad situation. The Twins’ second half of their 2013 season was more than a bad situation; it was a disaster. So what could be positive about that? Well, many fans who normally couldn’t afford a night at Target Field with their families were given tickets, or bought them very inexpensively, mostly from season ticket holders who just couldn’t take the frustration anymore. And it was a positive situation for all the teams that cleaned the Twins’ clocks, and even more so for the three teams who got to celebrate for the postseason after doing so.
I’ve been around teams that have been playoff-bound — even World Series-bound. It’s like nothing can go wrong. Ticket sales people are getting calls for the postseason and the upcoming season. The marketing people are labeled geniuses, and everyone is in a great mood; there are celebrities and parties; no one can do wrong. The only annoyances are the overwhelming numbers of phone calls and special requests from fans, friends, and family. Everyone wants a piece of the team, and everyone wants to be close to them.
But it wasn’t very much fun for Twins fans, employees, or the team itself this year. On the contrary! The sales people have got to be pulling their hair out. The marketing people will have to work extra-hard to sell a team to the public that has stunk for three years. The fair-weather fans are long gone, and the die-hard faithful are quite concerned about the Twins’ future. Athletes are competitive by nature, and sometimes feel the frustration even more. Even in a tight-knit group, there is usually a little finger pointing because of their deep desire to win, and some players are worried about their jobs.
I wandered around Target Field the last week of the season looking for something to write about. You could tell the guys were down, not having fun, and not wanting to talk much. I thought I’d lay off baseball and ask about other stuff. I know Brian Dozier loves fishing, so I asked him if he’d been fishing in Minnesota yet. With an ear-to-ear grin he said, “Tomorrow! I’m going to Minnetonka to try muskie fishing.” He wished me a good winter, and we vowed to get together in Fort Myers.
Then Josh Willingham strolled over and wished me a happy winter as well. I told him I’d see him in Florida. He smiled and said: “God
Ryan Doumit walked by and said he had read my book, “Baseball Guy,” and that he really liked it. Next summer he will help me with a book signing party for charity.
Next I saw Joe Mauer, and I asked him how he felt. He replied, “Better,” but he didn’t seem as loose and happy as he usually is when we shoot the breeze…until I asked about his wife and twin babies. “They’re great, and yes, healthy! They are all doing well. Now I just gotta make sure they stay that way,” he said with a happy but nervous tone that a rookie husband and father might have. He also said that Justin Morneau has been checking in with him regularly, and he was glad about that.
Chris Herrmann came trotting by and said hello. I asked if he had drawn anything lately. He is a very good artist. He likes to sketch with pencils. “No, not for a while” he said, “but I’ll have plenty of time soon.”
As the boys retreated to the clubhouse to chow down and dress for the game, I walked toward the tunnel on the visitors’ side, when I was approached by the biggest smile in baseball: Torii Hunter’s. It had been several years since we’ve talked and he greeted me with a hug. “Man! Can you believe I’m still fooling them out there on the field?” he joked. We laughed and talked about mutual friends and family. Later, as we went our ways, I congratulated him, wished him luck, and told him he’s the real deal, and he didn’t need to fool anyone. He said, “Wrong. That’s how you become the real deal, by being able to fool your opponent.”
A few days later, I was at the press conference where they announced Ron Gardenhire’s two-year extension. While mingling about after the announcement, I made a general statement in the presence of owner Jim Pohlad. I said if anyone can fix this team, Gardy can. Jim corrected me: “It’s going to take all of us. Me, Terry (Ryan), and Dave (St. Peter), we have to do our parts, too.” They have all vowed to make a massive effort to turn this team around, beginning with starting pitching, and I hope they can find it.
Jim Pohlad was pretty funny at the press conference; I love his dry sense of humor. He explained that he had signed Gardy to a two-year deal because hopefully sometime in those two years the Twins can get Ron the two wins he needs to reach 1,000. Then he made a joke with a message. The only thing he’d like to see changed in the coaching staff is Gardy’s uniform. He called it the baseball equivalent of a muumuu. He was referring to the oversized pullover windbreaker that the manager wears daily. Gardy looked a bit surprised and asked, “Oh, you want me to put a uniform on?” Jim never answered, but I’m sure that’s what we’ll see in 2014.
Before I left, I asked Ron’s lovely wife, Carol Gardenhire, for her thoughts. “I…umm, we couldn’t be happier! This is home.”