FORT MYERS, FLA. – Eddie Guardado returned to the Twins as a bullpen coach this winter, another in a long line of former players returning to the organization.
Guardado’s renewed relationship with his first team is different from many other’s. He turned himself into an All-Star closer with the Twins in 2002, and became emblematic of their overachieving teams of that era, and he was offended by the contract offer General Manager Terry Ryan made after the 2003 season.
He lashed out at Ryan. He responded vehemently. Guardado signed with the Mariners. He and Ryan didn’t speak again until Guardado heard about Ryan retiring at the end of the 2007 season, and called.
“I left him a voice mail,” Guardado said. “I told him, ‘I know we butted heads, but you did a hell of a job. I understand it now. You’re a hell of a GM. Good luck in the next chapter of your life.’ ”
Ryan called back, and got Guardado’s voice mail. Guardado remembers him saying: “Eddie, I appreciate the call. I got 100 of them. I have to say, from the bottom of my heart, this might have been the classiest call I got.”
When Ryan returned to the general manager job, Guardado began working at spring training as an instructor. When Ryan fired manager Ron Gardenhire and overhauled the coaching staff, Guardado became his bullpen coach.
“Did we butt heads pretty good? Absolutely,” Guardado said. “But did I always respect him? Absolutely. But when it came to business, I had no idea. They have to make tough decisions. I told Terry this year, ‘I know you have a hard job. It’s not easy to release somebody, or to tell someone you only have so much money to spend. I get it now. I mean, now I get it.”
Guardado again finds himself in a Twins camp with Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter and Chad Allen.
“Terry wants to surround himself with good people, with the right kind of people,” Guardado said. “People who have some guts.”
Ryan tried to downplay the severity of his squabble with Guardado but didn’t deny it.
“We had a little disagreement, there’s no question about that,” he said. “It was about a contract, and it’s not unusual to have a disagreement about a contract. As far as our history and our friendship and what we had been through, and him growing up in this organization, nobody loses sight of what he did for this organization.
“I also remember what he did for this club when we desperately needed to get going in the right direction. I’ve had disagreements with a lot of our players through the years. That doesn’t mean you go your separate ways and you never talk again.”
Guardado became a top pitching prospect, struggled in the big leagues as a starter, became a lefthanded specialist, then a setup man, then an All-Star closer, even though some days his fastball topped out at 90 miles per hour.
In the clubhouse, he often pulls up a chair and offers forceful and sometimes profane lessons to young pitchers.
When new pitching coach Neil Allen spoke to his charges the other day, he asked Guardado if he had anything to say. Guardado stepped in front of the crowd and talked about the time, pitching for the Mariners, he struggled with his control and loaded the bases with walks before getting the final out and earning the save.
“I threw 36 pitches in that inning,” Guardado said. “Thirty-six! Guess what? All fastballs. Pat Borders was catching me and he came out and said, ‘That was unbelievable. You pitch like you throw 100.’ And I said, ‘I don’t?’
“It’s all about attitude. It’s not about how hard you throw. It’s about figuring out a way to get the job done. That’s what I can tell these guys.”
He’s in camp to impart that message because he reached out to Ryan when it seemed Ryan might never be in a position to hire him. One call mended all.