FORT MYERS, FLA. – Don’t ask to meet Derek Shelton first thing in the morning unless you’re really an early bird.
He pulls into the CenturyLink Sports Complex around 5:30 a.m. each day. That’s what it takes for him to be everything manager Rocco Baldelli is not.
That reads much worse than it is. It just shows the commitment Shelton has to ensure that schedules are met, more than 85 players and coaches are in the right spots and how he works with his boss.
Shelton, back for a second year as the Twins bench coach, interviewed to be Paul Molitor’s replacement as manager, but the job was awarded to Baldelli, a bright 37-year-old who has never managed on any level — but worked on the same staff with Shelton at Tampa Bay.
Shelton then interviewed for the Rangers’ managerial opening, which went to Chris Woodward. Shelton could have looked for a coaching job with another organization — a place where there wasn’t a young manager like Baldelli who, if everything works out the way the Twins hope it does, could be around for a while.
Instead, he’s beating dawn’s early light to go over daily work schedules, greet players as they report for work, meet with the other coaches and help build momentum toward Opening Day.
“I think that it’s more the fact that we are friends,” Shelton said of Baldelli. “We have known each other for nine years. We have been on the same staff and were in the same coaches room for three years together. I think that plays a large part in me knowing his personality, him knowing my personality and then trying to complement off it.
“He’s probably the only guy I would have come back for.”
Shelton’s role is to make sure the gears don’t grind. He ensures routines are completed on time and all the little details that go into shaping a fundamentally sound ballclub are covered. Those are things Baldelli can delegate.
“The ability to help fill for Rocco in certain areas so Rocco can be focused more on big picture, the environment and culture,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said. “And Derek can focus on execution daily. That’s been a perfect partnership.”
That was what Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine wanted when they made their pitch to Shelton to stick around.
That’s more significant considering they broke out the broom following last season’s 78-84 misstep and removed Molitor and five coaches from the staff. Shelton’s communication skills with the coaching staff as well as the players didn’t go unnoticed by the front office as well as in the clubhouse. He was the one they wanted back.
“We love Sheltie,” Twins righthander Trevor May said. “What he’s doing now, he’s really good at. He’s a guy that, if something doesn’t have value, we’re not going to do it just because we have done it in the past. And it fits in well with a lot of analytic stuff.”
After being named manager Oct. 25, Baldelli met with Shelton at a coffee shop in St. Petersburg, Fla. — where Shelton lives — to discuss how their roles will work. They communicated almost daily from then on, texting ideas to each other late into the night.
Shelton oversaw the overhaul of the camp schedule. The intense “Good Morning America” fielding drill, a staple of Twins spring training for over 30 years, was replaced with less intensive drills. Players are getting all their work done on the same field instead of shifting from field to field. Workouts start a little later and end earlier. Rest and recovery are taken into consideration, matching a growing trend across the league.
“I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I do without knowing that he’s next to me and working with me along the entire way,” Baldelli said.
Falvey sees Shelton as more of a partner with Baldelli than someone who works under him, which falls in line with the collaborative environment the Twins strive for throughout the organization. And Shelton’s background — he’s a former minor league catcher who has managed in the minors and has been a major league hitting coach — shows up in several areas. He’s played and worked for the Yankees, Indians, Rays and Blue Jays before joining the Twins. And he embraces analytics.
Managing in his future?
“There’s a reason why he was a candidate for us and, one day, will be a very good manager in the major leagues,” Falvey said. “He’s been in the dugout a long time. He’s been around a lot of different types of managers, styles, different environments. I think what is unique to Derek is he understands how to blend all of those conversations.”
Now that he’s had two interviews for managerial positions, he’ll land on the popular lists of candidates when openings come up. So, too, will Twins hitting coach James Rowson, who also interviewed for the Twins managerial job.
So reporting for work as 5:45 a.m. might pay off sooner than later for Shelton.
“The fact that I was able to go through both interviews was great [but] it’s not something that, if it doesn’t happen in the next year or two, I’m going to be mad,” he said. “I’m really happy with where I’m at. I’m happy with the people I work with.
“I made a conscious decision to come back here and wanted to be here. My family likes being in Minnesota. I’m really happy where I’m at. If [becoming an MLB manager] happens, it would be great, but if it happens, I want to make sure it is the right situation, too.”