The Pham family escaped from Vietnam in 1981. The baby, Minh, was six weeks old when they left for the United States. The Phams settled in Woonsocket, R.I. It is a city of 40,000 that sits on the southern border of Massachusetts and is midway between Boston and Providence.
The neighborhood in which they moved was filled with white kids playing baseball in the summer, and as he grew, Minh joined in those games.
“I started playing in backyards, and then playgrounds and then kids leagues,’’ Pham said. “Rocco and I wound up on the same team.’’
Minh was 9 when his mother, Suu, was diagnosed with cancer. His father Dung was working to pay the bills and to care for his wife, and felt as if he was not able to give enough time or resources to his son.
“Minh was at our place with Rocco a lot of the time, and we just said that he could move in with us,’’ Dan (Rocky) Baldelli said.
His mother died when Minh was 12. “There was never an adoption; Minh just became part of the family,’’ Dan said.
On Thursday, Rocco Baldelli was introduced as the 14th manager of the Twins – and the first since Ray Miller in 1985 to be hired from outside the organization. When Twins baseball CEO Derek Falvey introduced the Baldelli family, he pointed out the three brothers: Nick, Dante and Minh.
Rocco and Minh are both 37. Nick played baseball at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. at the same time Falvey, 35, was a seldom-used pitcher there. And Dante, the kid brother, is a sophomore outfielder at Boston College.
“My friendship with Rocco introduced me to this family,’’ Minh said. “And then it became my family. You can take my word for it: Rocco is as humble and down-to-Earth as anyone you will meet, and that’s because of the way we were all raised by Dan and Michelle.’’
A strong hint of the famed New England accent can be heard in Minh’s voice. “People see an Asian guy and then they hear the voice – that gets me a confused look once in a while,’’ he said.
What impressed with Baldelli during the 30 minutes that he spent answering questions Friday was this: He made an effort to give an informative answer to all of them.
As a first-time manager, Baldelli admitted a few times that he was as curious as the questioner over how he might handle a situation, pitfall, etc., but he avoided the cliché-filled nonsense that marks too many media sessions in today’s sports world.
When asked about his ability to speak Spanish, Baldelli admitted that it was minimal, but he also talked of the importance of having diversity on his coaching staff to offer the best chance at full communication.
It didn’t come off as lip service toward diversity; rather both a need with all of the Spanish speakers on rosters today, and a want because of the way Baldelli sees life.
“I can guarantee that Rocco treats all people the same,’’ Minh Pham said. “We became best friends when wewere 9 or 10, before we became brothers.’’
There was an excellent coincidence this summer. Baldelli was serving as basically a co-bench coach for Tampa Bay. And on July 31, the Rays acquired outfielder Tommy Pham from St. Louis.
“I called Rocco and said, ‘Get me one of his jerseys; it can look like we’re teammates again, like Little League,’ ‘’ Minh said.
It would seem that an old baseball guy from Woonsocket, Dan Baldelli, would be pumped up right now – with New England’s heroes, the Red Sox, only two wins away from winning their fourth World Series going back to 2004 (which came after 86 years without one).
“Nah, I’m not a Red Sox fan; never really have been,’’ he said. “I always was interested in players, not really individual teams. And you know who else I liked? [George] Steinbrenner. I liked all that crazy stuff he did; when he would go off about something.
“The Red Sox are no big deal for me. And then Rocco signed with Tampa Bay, so except for that one year he was in Boston (2009) – we’ve been Rays fans for almost 20 years.’’
Dan looked across the room to where his son, wearing a No. 5 Twins jersey, was doing another TV interview.
“Now we have a new team,’’ Dan said. “He’s excited. And we’re all excited for him.’’