FORT MYERS, FLA. – The radio communicators were squawking around 8:30 a.m. Monday and relaying this information to those involved with parking and security at Hammond Stadium:
“Gardy will be arriving on his motorcycle around 9:15. Let him into the players’ lot in the back.”
There are few managers that could show up at an opponent’s ballpark and require only a nickname to be identified to all the civilians carrying radios issued by stadium operations.
Ron Gardenhire — “Gardy” in baseball circles — has that connection at this Twins complex, having been here from the team’s arrival in southwest Florida in February 1991 through 2014. He was the new third base coach for the World Series-winning season in 1991, the manager for a successful nine-year stretch starting in 2002, and fired in 2014 after the lineup had crumbled and the pitching had gone to Hoey.
Gardenhire briefly worked as a special assistant for the Twins in 2016 and served as Torey Lovullo’s bench coach for Arizona in 2017. The Diamondbacks reached the postseason, won a wild-card game and were swept by the Dodgers in a division series. Eleven days later, on Oct. 20, Gardenhire was announced as the manager of the Detroit Tigers.
In the time between managerial jobs, Gardenhire became a grandfather (Ronnie), lost weight before and after prostate surgery, got his blood pressure under control and bought a new fishing boat to use on the Gulf waters near his Fort Myers home.
“He got the boat, and then he got the Tigers job, so the boat hasn’t gotten much use,” said Steve Liddle, Gardy’s first bench coach in Minnesota and now with Detroit. “But we’re going to be out on the water Wednesday.”
The Tigers made the 2½-hour trip from Lakeland through the jungle to Fort Myers to play the Twins here for the first time since 2006. They play the Red Sox down the road on Tuesday, and then Wednesday is the rare March off day, so Gardenhire, Liddle and others will fish on the Gulf.
“Not me,” pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “I like to fish, but I don’t go way out in the water. I can’t handle that.”
Anderson, Liddle and Joe Vavra were the former Twins coaches that Gardenhire brought with him to Detroit. Anderson was the bullpen coach last March, with Chris Bosio as the pitching coach.
Halfway through the 2018 season, Bosio was fired after claims of inappropriate remarks to employees, and Anderson took over as pitching coach. He rode the bus Monday morning, and Vavra stayed in Lakeland to run the camp for the Tigers players not making the trip.
Gardenhire and Liddle drove over Sunday night to stay in Gardy’s house near the beach — the one where son Toby, now the manager of the Class A Fort Myers Miracle, enjoys living.
Rent-free? “His mom won’t let me charge rent,” Gardenhire said.
The Bayside Grille is located around the corner, and its owner, John Schuckert, became Gardy’s pal.
“Carol and I would walk over for dinner and I’d have two drinks,” he said. “Or four.”
Monday, just after 9 a.m., Gardenhire and Schuckert came rolling in on what looked like twin 2019 Harley-Davidsons.
“He’s got a bike; I have a trike,” Gardy said. “I like being able to stand up at stoplights.”
This winter, the manager and restaurant owner stretched out their machines with a ride to Key West. “That was fantastic,” Gardenhire said.
And now it’s baseball, in central Florida, and the continuation of the rebuild that the Tigers decided to take on after the 64-98 disaster of 2017. That season started with a $216 million payroll, and ended with payroll being slashed and Brad Ausmus being fired as manager.
“It was a full rebuild last season,” Gardenhire said. “We were brought in to teach young players the right way to play the game. It’s still a rebuild, but not to the same degree.
“One reason is the player who can be our leader, Miguel Cabrera, is healthy. He’s swinging the bat well. And he’s energetic. He’s going to be here today.”
Cabrera was the first Tigers player to walk into the visitors clubhouse, shout a Spanish greeting that produced a laugh for Gardenhire, and get ready to play first base.
The Tigers were one of the first games to sell out in January. The reason? This was the first chance for the Michigan retirees here to see the Tigers at Hammond Stadium in 13 years.
“You know how far back Tigers tradition goes in Michigan,’’ Gardenhire said. “The Detroit fans are going to stick with us, as long as we show this is leading somewhere. And if we can stay healthy for the most part, unlike last year, we’re going to be able to do that.’’