It didn’t take long for Ron Gardenhire to resume his old tricks when he took over the Detroit Tigers. He was ejected on Opening Day.
Gardenhire has continued to argue with umpires. He’s praised his players for aggressive mistakes and criticized them for lack of hustle. Players, fans and media have had to learn the Gardenhire lexicon. That means, yes, he has used the phrase “battled their tails off.”
It’s been full Gardy in Detroit. As the Tigers enter a rebuilding phase (they were 64-98 last season), Gardenhire has pushed his team to play hard but, simultaneously, have fun. We heard that many times during Gardenhire’s 13 years running the Twins, and now the Motor City is getting a taste of it.
Twins fans will see for themselves this week when the 20-23 Tigers arrive for a three-game series beginning Monday.
He’s been a gold mine for quotes, like his response last week when asked if he’s considered talking to his players about playing video games excessively, in the wake of Boston’s David Price coming down with carpal tunnel syndrome after playing too much “Fortnite.”
“To not play a video game?” Gardenhire answered. “That’s probably out of my jurisdiction. I’d probably tell them not to go swordfighting or something like that. Video games? No. It’s their choices. This is the United States. They have their choices.”
And Gardenhire is not the only former Twin in Detroit. Rick Anderson, his longtime pitching coach, is the Tigers’ bullpen coach. Steve Liddle (bench coach) and Joe Vavra (quality control coach) filled various roles on Gardenhire’s staffs.
And he’s retraced some of the steps he took with the Twins. Remember when he announced that Jacque Jones would be his leadoff hitter in 2002? He made Leonys Martin, also not known as a table setter, his leadoff hitter this year. Martin entered the weekend batting .294 with a .355 on-base percentage.
After a 6-0 loss to Baltimore on April 27, Gardenhire addressed the team, at the end telling the players, “All right, turn some music on, get a cold beer, we’ll get them tomorrow,” according to some players. And the Tigers won the next day.
That’s one of Gardenhire’s strengths, being able to take the stress out of stressful situations while getting players to believe they can make a difference. Meanwhile, players have raised eyebrows as Gardenhire and Liddle banter during games keeping the dugout loose.
And the players have followed suit. When Gardenhire decided to give Martin a day off recently, he vowed to spend the game standing behind Gardenhire and yelling. And he did just that.
How much it will work this season as the Tigers transition to a new wave of players remains to be seen, but the Gardenhire experience, so far, has drawn favorable reviews.
“He reminds me a lot of manager Jim Leyland,” Tigers star Miguel Cabrera said earlier this month. “He gives you a lot of confidence to go out there and play. When you are feeling good, when you are feeling like he trusts you, you can do a lot of good things on the field.”
Baseball reporters La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller will alternate weeks. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins