Fort Myers, Fla. – Doug Mientkiewicz the manager would have liked Mientkiewicz the player more than Mientkiewicz the player would have liked Mientkiewicz the manager.
The former Twins first baseman is in his second season managing the Class A Fort Myers Miracle in the Twins’ farm system. He needles players, privately and publicly.
Who does he think he is, Tom Kelly?
“I tell my players, the one thing you will have by the end of this summer is thicker skin,’’ Mientkiewicz said. “I am not the trophy generation manager. If you stink, you will hear from me. You will not have to guess what I’m thinking.
“I grew up with Terry and TK. There wasn’t a lot of candy-coating going on.’’
TK is Kelly, Mientkiewicz’s first manager in the big leagues. Terry is Terry Ryan, the Twins’ plain-spoken general manager.
Mientkiewicz, who turns 40 later this month, tries to emulate many of the managers for whom he played, and he seems to be doing something right. He went 79-56 last season and had the Miracle in first place in the Florida State League’s South Division this year at 34-23.
In the big leagues, Mientkiewicz played for Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, Terry Francona, Willie Randolph, Buddy Bell, Joe Torre, John Russell and Don Mattingly.
“TK ran a bullpen better than anybody I’ve played for,’’ Mientkiewicz said. “I take a lot from Terry Francona, with the personalities he had to deal with, and being down 3-0 in a [playoff series] and the way he stayed the same. I’m still working on that.
“He just said, ‘Win today.’ He made it so simple. He kept with the same lineup he trusted and believed. Joe Torre would defuse a bomb before it was even created. We’d win three games in a row, but if he didn’t like the way we won the last game, he would talk to us about how we went about that, and how to stop that before the three-game losing streak came along. Then there was Donny’s personality.’’
Mientkiewicz’s players compare him to someone else.
“They say I’m like Larry Bowa,’’ Mientkiewicz said of the former Phillies manager known for his temper. “That’s hard to hear. I fly off the handle at times. But I’m much more in control this year than I was last year.’’
Mientkiewicz finished his playing career with the Dodgers, then became their rookie-league hitting coach before the Twins hired him.
At advanced Class A, Mientkiewicz is handling talented but raw players. He finds himself managing two games in his head — a theoretical big-league chess match, and the present minor league tutorial.
In a recent game, he and pitching coach Gary Lucas debated calling a pitch from the dugout, then Mientkiewicz said, “Let’s see what they do.’’ They threw a fastball. It landed over the fence. “I think we all learned something from that as a staff, and a team,’’ Mientkiewicz said.
Mientkiewicz had to fight for a place in the big leagues. Is he trying to make it back to Minneapolis?
“Everybody’s dream is to be a big-league manager — but everybody says that,’’ he said. “But I feel like if you’re only trying to better yourself to get somewhere, you’re losing your focus on why you’re here in the first place. My agenda is to get these kids to the big leagues, and to let them realize a dream that I fulfilled. If that takes me up the ladder, so be it.
“Do I want a crack up there? Of course. But I’m not waking up every day saying, ‘I’ve got to get to the big leagues.’ ”
Mientkiewicz remembers chafing under Kelly’s leadership.
“It’s like when you’re a rookie and you get hazed by veterans,’’ he said. “When you’re a veteran you treat the rookies the same way. It’s the same with managing. I was brought up this way, and it’s not going to be any easier for these guys than it was for me. I didn’t like it coming up, but it probably bought me more years in the big leagues than I ever deserved.’’
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Mientkiewicz back in the Twins’ clubhouse in a year or three.