FORT MYERS, Fla. – Ron Gardenhire has learned something important during his semiretirement this spring. He’s not ready to be retired.
“Oh, no. I’ve got a lot left in me in baseball,” a tanned and relaxed Gardenhire said Tuesday during a low-key, back-fields visit to the training camp he ran for 13 seasons. “If somebody is looking for a manager and I’m a fit, great. I would love to manage again.”
But for now, he’s happy to watch another Gardenhire pace the dugout at the Twins’ camp. His son Toby, in his third season as head baseball coach at Wisconsin-Stout, provided the opposition for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League team Tuesday, and the longtime big-league manager showed up in a “UW Stout Blue Devils Dad” T-shirt to watch.
“This is part of what I’ve been looking forward to — spending time with my family,” Gardenhire said, while keeping an eye on the field. “I’ve been very excited for them to come down here. And I’ll be going back up to the Twin Cities, traveling around Wisconsin. It’s going to be a great summer.”
It’s already been a relaxing and rewarding winter, he said. Once the season ended and General Manager Terry Ryan decided to let him go, Gardenhire and his wife, Carol, drove to Oklahoma to be with their daughter Tiffany and her husband, waiting for their first grandchild to be born. “We spent over a month living in our RV in front of their house,” Gardenhire said, a vigil that was worth it when Ronnie William Floyd — named for both of his grandfathers — was born in November. “It’s been a blast. He’s so much fun,” Gardenhire said. “It changes your life.”
But a life without baseball is a change too much. Gardenhire said he intends to hire an agent once spring training ends “and have him put my name out there. We’ll see what happens. This is my first summer off, but I still love the game.”
The game loves him, too, judging by the steady stream of Twins minor league coaches and staff members who wandered over to say hello once they heard he was in the crowd. Gardenhire signed a few autographs, shook hands with several dozen old friends and even accepted a gift of a few cigars from one. Tom Kelly, the only other manager the Twins have had since 1986 until this year, walked over to say hello, too.
“I’m trying to stay out of the way. I don’t want to be a distraction,” said Gardenhire, who lives in Fort Myers during the winter. “We went to lunch and looked up, and the Twins were on TV. Carol said, ‘Don’t watch.’ But I’ve got too many friends here not to.”
He stopped by before camp opened to see the renovations to Hammond Stadium and ran into his successor, Paul Molitor.
“Billy Smith [former general manager] was giving me a tour, and [Molitor] came up on his bicycle with his wife. Paul and I sat and talked for a bit. We’ve traded e-mails a couple of times, mostly me wishing him luck, but that’s it. I know he’ll do a good job.”
Gardenhire, who is still being paid his salary for the 2015 season, said he turned down Ryan’s offer of a front-office role, but he’s still willing to help the team that employed him for more than a quarter-century.
“Terry told me, ‘Any time.’ If they need someone to go see a few [minor league] teams, something like that, he said they’d love to have me,” Gardenhire said. “The offer is still there. … Actually, I’d love to be Terry’s assistant and walk around going, ‘You should do this. Don’t do that.’ ”
It’s great fun to watch his son manage, he said, something he never had time for until now.
“He’s calm. I like that,” said the not-always-calm father. “His kids respect him a lot, and he has a lot of fun with them.”
Toby said he picked up a lot of managerial philosophy from his father, plus a sense of humanity.
“He taught me that you’ve got to remember how hard it is to be a player. I played for a long time, so did he, and we know how easy it is to make mistakes,” Toby said. “We made them, too. You don’t embrace mistakes, but correct them, but you have to remember it’s not easy.”
Case in point: When Stout outfielder Ryan Connor rounded second base and tried to stretch a double into a triple, Gardenhire just shook his head.
“They’ve got arms up here, son. That’s a bad idea.” Sure enough, Connor was easily tagged out at third.
“I got him thrown out. I knew that one would get me in trouble” with his father, Toby Gardenhire said with a laugh. “But he’s helped me a lot. He’s been willing to toss in his two cents.”