DETROIT – It was a well-intentioned move to reward a hard-working successful minor league manager.
But could the Twins’ call-up of Class A Cedar Rapids manager Toby Gardenhire for this week’s series against the Tigers create a family divided?
Toby Gardenhire, whose Kernels went 77-62 overall and employed some of the Twins’ top prospects, was asked if anyone in his family will root for him and the Twins this week.
“I doubt that, they all got Tigers gear on,” Toby said. “My girlfriend is here. She’s got the Twins stuff on. Everyone else is wearing Tigers gear. We asked little Ronnie — that’s my sister’s nephew — and he said, ‘Tigers, Tigers, Tigers.’ I’m not going to fight it right now. They can do whatever they want.”
Ron Gardenhire, who enters the series with a career managerial record of 1,129-1,127, was asked if his wife, Carol, will root for him.
“Debatable,” the former Twins manager said. “Maybe my 7-month-old grandbaby will root for me. I don’t know about the wife or anybody else. I have my doubts.”
So the stage is set as the Twins play the Tigers this week at Comerica Park. Carol picked up Toby from the airport Sunday night and brought him home for family dinner. His sisters, Tiffany and Tera, are in town for the series as well.
But that’s it. He wouldn’t even spend the night at the house.
“I’m staying with the team,” he said. “I said I’m not staying with the enemy.”
The Gardenhires met before the game to exchange lineup cards with the umpires. Though they posed for a photo, Toby didn't even shake his father's hand before the game — only after it.
“He was pretty calm about the whole thing. I thought he was going to crack some big joke on me,” Toby Gardenhire said of the lineup card exchange. “I always think he’s going to do something. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was introducing myself to the umpires and he told them I was his son. I wasn’t going to say anything. Just try to keep it quiet.”
Toby Gardenhire laughed as he talked about his father while discussing his own his path from being a baseball kid hanging out in clubhouses to playing in college, playing in the minors, coaching in college, coaching in the minor and now getting a chance to be a minor league manager. After his playing days ended, he was the coach at Wisconsin-Stout from 2012 to ’16, where he was 81-117.
The Twins brought him on last year. He was supposed to be the hitting coach the Gulf Coast League rookie team but was needed to be the third base coach for Class AAA Rochester as manager Mike Quade recovered from shoulder surgery. This season, he moved to Quad Cities and managed a team that included several top prospects such as Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis, Brusdar Graterol, Ben Rortvedt and Jose Miranda.
“I had hoped to play in the big leagues at some point,” said Toby Gardenhire, 36. “I played in the minor leagues and didn’t get up here as a player. I kind of grew up in the clubhouses. I know all these guys pretty well. When I was a kid I think the last time I was in these clubhouses I was the bat boy, but I did it quite a bit growing up.
“To get a chance to be here in this kind of role with this type of scenario is pretty awesome for me.”
That begged a question, if he was in the major league clubhouse and saw what it did to the old man, why get into the business?
“No idea,” Toby Gardenhire said with a laugh. “He asks me that all the time. I said I have no idea. He keeps telling me my hair is going to fall out. I said I think you are about right. I think I lost more hair this year than I’ve lost ever, so it seems about right.”
The two speak by phone frequently, and Toby Gardenhire said that he was constantly needled by his team for having Twins games on the television in his office — while having Tigers games on his computer.
And, in a sign that he’s like his old man, Toby Gardenhire was ejected twice this season.
The Twins routinely call up some of their minor league personnel in September for development purposes. But the Twins made sure Toby Gardenhire would serve his stint against the Tigers.
“He’s excited,” Ron Gardenhire said. “This is a great opportunity the Twins are giving him, to be on the field in the big leagues. He’s worked really hard. He had a good year as a manager. Good for him. Now we’ll see who the family roots for.”