Gardenhire's calm comes from father

Gardenhire's calm comes from father

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire always knew that he would don a uniform for his career. But for the early part of his life, he thought it would be as part of the military, not on a baseball field.

Born on an Army base in Butzbach, Germany, Gardenhire spent much of his early childhood moving around due to the military career of his father, First Sgt. Clyde Gardenhire, before his family settled down in Okmulgee, Okla.

Watching his father, Gardenhire garnered a great respect for those in the service, and he believed that one day he would likely follow in his father's footsteps.

But Clyde was also the one who helped Gardenhire develop a passion for baseball. He was an assistant coach for many of his son's youth teams and instilled in him many of the lessons that the skipper of the Twins now uses every day when managing games from the dugout.

And as Gardenhire gets set to lead his team into its sixth playoff appearance in his nine years as Minnesota's manager, he still harkens back to some of the same things that he learned from his dad.

"My dad had this calmness about him, and I've always said I hope I can remain calm like he does in any situation," Gardenhire said. "If the house was burning down, my dad would have just been calm about it and said something like, 'You might want to get a hose going here.' That's something I tried to learn from him -- not to let any situation ruffle you too awfully much."

Another year, another division title
Those lessons from his father may have been used more this season than any other in Gardenhire's nine-year tenure as Twins manager due to the challenges that faced the team.

First came the loss of four-time All-Star closer Joe Nathan in Spring Training. Then came the slow offensive start to the season by catcher and reigning American League Most Valuable Player Joe Mauer, who was plagued by some minor injuries throughout the first half. And then there was the concussion that All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau suffered on July 7 in a game at Toronto that has kept him out for close to three months.

All of it came in a year when expectations had been raised for the Twins. The team entered its first season in its new ballpark, Target Field, and its payroll had jumped to near $100 million for the first time in franchise history. But of course things didn't go quite as smoothly as planned.

"As a manager, you just have to kind of keep it on an even keel as best you can," Gardenhire said. "I can't get too up or too down. But when you look back at Spring Training, I was talking with the coaching staff and when Nathan went down, we were like, 'What are we going to do now?'

"But you know what? After all these years, you just finally figure it out. You just have to ad-lib as best you can, and that's what we've tried to do all season long."

That ad-libbing worked, as Gardenhire led the Twins to their sixth American League Central title in the past nine years, thanks in large part to a second-half surge. Fittingly, he picked up career win No. 800 when the Twins clinched their division title on the night of Sept. 21.

The job that Gardenhire has done this season has put him among the favorites for the AL Manager of the Year Award. It's an honor that's so far eluded Gardenhire; he's finished as the runner-up in the voting five times, but Twins general manager Bill Smith hopes this is the year that changes, considering all that Gardenhire has weathered en route to the AL Central title.

"Different people will tell you how many games a manager wins or lose by tactical decisions," Smith said. "But the clubhouse atmosphere and the chemistry on a ballclub is something that factors in every day, from the first day of Spring Training to the last day of the season, and he never waivers with any of that.

"He is an upbeat, popular manager with his players. He's been everything we would ever have hoped for in someone to lead this club."

Tie that binds
The military still plays an important role in Gardenhire's life, even if he never followed in his father's footsteps. The respect and admiration that he garnered for service men and women has only grown stronger through the years.

The skipper has tried to keep in touch with various military members who he's met or who have been fans of the Twins. It's a reminder throughout a baseball season full of ups and downs that sometimes there are more important things than the game.

"You look at these kids and they are going overseas and fighting in wars, and some of them are coming back with no arms and legs." Gardenhire said. "It puts baseball in perspective. You've got people yelling at you and second-guessing and stuff like that when you're a manager. And really, it's nothing. What we do, yes, we all want to win. Yes, I want to win a World Series and it means a lot to our fans. Still, it's baseball and it's an entertainment business.

"What our folks in the military are doing is giving us the right to have this entertainment that we have and to enjoy it."

On Mother's Day, Gardenhire got a chance to welcome one such solider with whom he had been corresponding via e-mail. Army Specialist Logan Hastings was on a 16-month tour of duty in Iraq when he formed a friendship with Gardenhire over e-mail. As they wrote back and forth, Gardenhire promised that when Hastings returned to the States, he could come to Minnesota and attend a Twins game.

So after Hastings returned and before he was to be deployed on a one-year mission to Afghanistan as part of the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., Gardenhire and the Twins invited him and his family to Target Field for a game. It included his father, Jeff, who is an army captain and chaplain and was preparing to be deployed to Kuwait.

The family was given a tour of the Twins' clubhouse by Gardenhire, watched batting practice, and Logan threw a ceremonial first pitch to Jeff before that Sunday's game. Logan's mother, Criss, raised the American flag during the national anthem and his sister, Kayla, was also in attendance for the weekend.

Sitting at his desk inside the visiting manager's office at Comerica Park last week, Gardenhire reminisced about that weekend with the Hastings family and said he was getting ready to send another email to Logan. He smiled as he talked about the interaction between the two.

"It's pretty special," Gardenhire said of getting to have his own impact on soldiers. "You just want to say thank you the best you can."

Leading by example
Gardenhire hasn't forgotten the many other lessons that his father taught him while growing up, both in life and on the ballfield. And many of those have helped Gardenhire to develop his managing style.

"He always said, 'Put yourself in everybody else's position. Any time something happens, put yourself in that person's position,'" Gardenhire said. "And it's applied to baseball managing."

Gardenhire said that he was told something similar early on in his managing career by former Mets manager Davey Johnson: "Never forget what it was like to be a player." It's a mantra that Gardenhire often recites when having to deal with the various ups and downs that come throughout a 162-game season.

"As a manager, I want my players to come to the ballpark and love being here," Gardenhire said. "Enjoy their time when they are here. I think the biggest compliment is to hear players from other teams say that they'd love to play here. That's what it's all about to me."

Jim Thome, who has played under a number of managers throughout his 20-year big league career, said that he's appreciated Gardenhire's managing style.

"I think he's done a great job of handling his players, and I think to be a good manager, that's key," Thome said. "You have to know each personality, and he does that. I think he knows everybody from top to bottom, and he does a great job with the on-field stuff, too. ... I've had good ones, and he's right up there, definitely, at the top of the list. It's definitely been a pleasure to play for him, that's for sure."

As the regular season comes to an end this weekend, Gardenhire is preparing his team for yet another postseason run. Only once in the previous five years have the Twins advanced past the first round, with that last coming in 2002 -- Gardenhire's first season as manager.

While Gardenhire says that each division title has been special, there is no question that he longs for postseason success. A third-base coach under manager Tom Kelly on the Twins' 1991 World Series title team, Gardenhire already possesses a championship ring that has eluded many throughout their baseball careers.

But Gardenhire is driven to get at least one of those rings as the manager of the Twins.

"You always strive for the top," Gardenhire said. "You want to do it for so many reasons -- you want to get there for your fans, for the organization that has been so good to me and my family and for the players.

"You want a ring. We keep saying if we keep getting to the playoffs that we are going to get that ring. Hopefully, it's this year."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.