JUPITER, FLA. - Mike Redmond was walking out of Marlins Stadium with his family in December, having just been introduced at a news conference as the Miami Marlins' new manager, and his 12-year-old son, Ryan, was clearly impressed.
"He said, 'Man, Dad, this is a big stadium. This is pretty cool,' " Redmond recounted on Friday. " 'This is kind of a big deal.' "
Yeah, it kind of is, especially for a guy who never saw himself as one. Redmond was a career backup catcher, a guy who wasn't even chosen in one of the 50 rounds of the baseball draft when he graduated from Gonzaga in 1992, and considered himself lucky to win a job -- and then hold on to it for 13 years -- in the big leagues.
But Redmond was always more valuable than just a guy to warm up pitchers and give Joe Mauer an occasional day off. In many ways, Redmond was the heart of the Twins' clubhouse during his five seasons in Minnesota, the guy who kept things light, who made the daily grind funny -- but who always kept his teammates focused on winning.
"You need characters in your clubhouse. ... They can't all be headbangers in there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Red Dog's a blast. He was fun to have as a player. ... [But] he can be real serious when he wants to. We've seen both sides of him. When he was, as they say, getting on a pitcher's butt, he was really serious about the way he wanted things done."
Still is, and Redmond -- who faced his former team for the first time Friday -- said he learned much of that from Gardenhire.
"He's loyal to guys. He backed his players up. He got thrown out of a lot of games to back his players up," Redmond said. "Players always knew, when you're out there competing, grinding, that he had their backs. That's huge in this game, and that's one thing I learned from him."
He used to bounce strategy ideas off of his manager during games, too, debating pitching changes and whether to send baserunners. As a catcher, Redmond had plenty of insights into the pitching staff, Gardenhire said, information that was useful during games.
"He was a constant. When he was on the bench, we'd talk -- what would you do here? Hit and run here? He'd say, 'Absolutely.' You bunt them over here? 'Absolutely,' " Gardenhire said. "Then I say, 'Well, you do the interview when they screw it up.' And now he gets the chance."
Gardenhire always expected Redmond to get that chance, and was hardly surprised when Redmond, after just two seasons of managing Class A teams in the Blue Jays' system, suddenly became a major league peer.
"We always said that, one of these days, you're going to be doing this," Gardenhire said. "All players have opinions on everything, and everybody's a second-guesser. Red's a good second-guesser. He second-guessed me."
Redmond could have been second-guessed for accepting a job with the most negative karma in baseball, run by the least popular owner in the game, with a fan base split between the angry and the apathetic. Just a week after Redmond was hired, the Marlins traded away the core of his team -- shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buck and outfielder Emilio Bonifacio -- and slashed the payroll to roughly $30 million.
But he views the challenge as similar to the one he faced with the Twins, and with similar paths to success.
"In Minnesota, we always talked about playing the right way, playing hard, running out balls, taking out the second baseman, doing the extra things. Battling back. ... For whatever reason, whether payroll or whatever compared to other teams, we always felt like we were underdogs, but we never felt we were out of a game," Redmond said. "We're like that this year. Nobody gives us a chance. So we're going to go out and see if we can prove them wrong."
So what one thing did Redmond learn in particular from his former boss? Redmond thought about the question, then smiled.
It's the hat toss, he said.
"I always laugh every time he gets thrown out of a game. When he takes that hat off and fires it down on the turf," Redmond said. "I'm going to have to come up with my own."
Some way to be remembered, eh Gardy?
"Well, he never offered to pay one of my fines," the manager said. A line that Redmond, the clubhouse character turned manager, would appreciate.