Joe Vavra was sitting on a deck at an apartment complex in Troy, Mich.
Ron Gardenhire, Rick Anderson and Steve Liddle were also enjoying the early evening on Thursday.
“I don’t think there’s a beer out there,’’ said Vavra, after stepping inside. “We’re just drinking a soda and talking some baseball.’’
Gardenhire returned as the manager of the Detroit Tigers this season, three years after his long run (2002-2014) as manager of the Twins ended with his firing. Three coaches that worked with Gardenhire in Minnesota — Vavra (quality control), Liddle (bench) and Anderson (bullpen) — were added as part of Gardy’s seven-coach staff in Detroit.
The Tigers had defeated the L.A. Angels 6-2 earlier Thursday, putting them at 26-30 in what’s perceived as a rebuilding season, and also at 2-0 since being visited by the “Rally Goose.’’
A Canadian honker showed up on the field during Wednesday night’s game at Comerica Park, tried to fly out of the stadium, crashed into a ribbon scoreboard on an upper deck and tumbled into the stands.
The goose survived and was released outside the stadium. The Tigers scored five runs in their next half-inning, and won again on Thursday, and the Rally Goose quickly has become all the rage on the Detroit sports scene.
I said to Vavra: “You weren’t on the Twins’ big-league staff then, but tell Gardy that he was owed the Rally Goose against the Angels, after they broke out the Rally Monkey against him in the 2002 ALCS.’’
Detroit’s lucky goose wasn’t the true reason for a conversation. It was the fact Terrin, the third and last of Vavra’s baseball-playing sons, had been named to the first team by Baseball America for its collegiate All-America team.
Terrin is a junior shortstop and the first Gopher to make first-team All-America since second baseman Derek McCallum in 2009. He broke into coach John Anderson’s lineup for the Big Ten champions of 2016, but was waylaid with back problems that restricted his use. Last season, he still had some back issues, although he played 50 games.
Vavra has been fully healthy in 2018 as the Gophers won both the Big Ten regular season and the tournament. He took a .385 average with 10 home runs and 55 RBI into Friday night’s NCAA regional opener vs. Canisius at Siebert Field.
You want a little bragging about a ball-playing son? That’s hard work for the Vavras of Menomonie, Wis.
Joe, Lesa and sons Tanner, Trey and Terrin are a humble lot.
“Yeah, Terrin’s had a good year …’’ Joe said. And then he headed immediately into this endorsement for John Anderson’s Gophers program:
“A lot of players have been given a lot to this. To win the league and win the tournament … that’s quite an accomplishment. It takes everyone involved. Terrin always talked about playing for the Gophers, and he’s been very happy to be there since Day One.
“When we [the Tigers] were there to play the Twins a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to watch a Gophers practice. It was crisp, detailed, no clowning around.
“That just doesn’t happen when you show up. It was by design. The kids were having a good time, but they were also working — understanding the mechanics of making plays.
“John and Rob Fornasiere and the coaches there do a terrific job.’’
Oldest son Tanner was playing in the infield for the Alexandria Beetles of the Northwoods League in the summer of 2011. It was a compelling story, since Tanner had lost the vision in his right eye as a 3-year-old. It was an accident with a fly-fish hook that still haunted Joe two decades later.
Tanner played football and baseball for Menomonie High School and baseball at Valparaiso University. This was followed by three seasons in the Twins’ farm system, and two seasons in the American Association with the Saints and Sioux City.
He was an assistant coach for Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie this spring, and is playing town baseball for the Menomonie Eagles.
Trey was a first baseman with considerable hitting potential and was drafted by the Twins in 2014. He fractured an ankle that required considerable surgery. In the spring of 2017, he was in a car crash and suffered whiplash.
He was released and now has joined the Chicago Dogs in the American Association. He was hitting .409 as of Friday morning.
Those are the two older brothers: Tanner, listed at a generous 5-11 (like his father), and Trey, listed at 6-foot-2. It looked as if Terrin was headed for the shorter end of the Vavra spectrum.
“Terrin was small … and then he grew 6, 7 [inches] from the start of his sophomore year in high school to the middle of his junior year and got to 6 feet,’’ Joe said.
The Vavra sons were righthanded. Joe put all three kids in the lefthanded batter’s box when they were very young.
“Tanner and Trey both turned around almost right away and starting swinging righthanded,’’ Joe said. “Terrin took to batting lefthanded.’’
Vavra could have stayed on Paul Molitor’s staff with the Twins. “I love the Twins, they were great to me, but Gardy gave me my first chance to come to the big leagues in 2006,’’ Joe said. “I wanted to be part of what the Tigers are trying to do here in Detroit.’’
Does Vavra miss the chance to be working a couple of miles from where his All-America son is playing for the Gophers?
“It’s not much different from when Terrin was playing the last two years and I was with the Twins,’’ Joe Vavra, baseball lifer, said. “As a coach, you just don’t tell the manager, ‘I’m going to miss all he pregame stuff because my son has a ballgame at Siebert Field.’
“I watch video of Terrin’s games and we talk on the phone. But I don’t offer much advice. He has very good coaches with the Gophers to take care of that.’’