On the Sunday morning before the All-Star break, Paul Molitor walked beyond second base at Target Field and threw pop-ups to his children, who sprinted and dived in the sun.
Molitor walked with them to the dugout, turned, looked across the field, and on an idyllic day reflected on what has become an idyllic life.
“I haven’t really stopped to measure it all,’’ he said. “But every once in a while, in your humble moments, when you think about the journey you’ve been able to travel through, from growing up here and having family here and playing and fulfilling dreams and all of that good stuff, it’s all gone to another level with this opportunity.
“I’m trying to soak it all in. You know me. Whatever I’ve been challenged with in terms of opportunities, I’ve tried to meet them head-on, tried to do my best. The reward in this job comes in watching the development of men, and how their development affects not only their profession, but how they mature, and the responsibilities they’re willing to accept, and how they accept accountability.
“Leadership is about that. We all try to make people better at skills, but I think when you see guys figure out how to be good people, everything from how it affects their performance to how they carry themselves here, and with their families and in their communities.
“I’ve made so many mistakes along the way that I hope, with the things I’ve gone through, I can communicate those to people to help them just become better.’’
In his first year as Twins manager, Molitor is enjoying the view. He took over a team that had lost 90 games for four consecutive seasons and guided it to the second-best record in the American League, adding a chapter to a storybook life that seems so perfectly scripted as to be fictional.
He grew up in St. Paul, played at Cretin High, then the University of Minnesota. He became a star in Milwaukee and a champion in Toronto before returning to Minnesota to collect his 3,000th hit and be elected into the Hall of Fame.
After spending years as a scout, instructor and coach for the Twins, he became manager of his hometown team. The result has been a rare thing: A Hall of Famer whose managerial style is defined by humility.
He doesn’t criticize players publicly. He second-guesses himself publicly. When rookie Miguel Sano missed a sign recently and was thrown out trying to steal second, Molitor said it was the responsibility of the manager and the coaches to communicate with the player.
After a recent game, he bolted from his office immediately after his news conference to hand the lineup card to Ryan O’Rourke, a 27-year-old reliever who had just made his big-league debut.
Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, Torii Hunter and Glen Perkins rave about Molitor’s approach. Sano and top prospect Byron Buxton have called Molitor the person they rely on most in the organization.
“There is no panic with him,’’ Twins vice president Rob Antony said. “He’s got the players playing relaxed. If you make a mistake you don’t fear that you’re going to be benched. And please, this isn’t a knock on the previous manager, but I think these are traits that I think are really important.
“You lose a game, he doesn’t dwell on it. He’s always looking forward. The preparation and attention to detail and the ability to communicate with players while maintaining a mutual respect with them has been very important.
“He’s got everybody believing in themselves and each other. It’s not easy to do all of those things, especially given our recent history.’’
Ron Gardenhire, Molitor’s predecessor, brought intensity to the job but seemed deflated in his last year or two.
Molitor has a different personality and approach. He has connected with his players on a personal level.
“I had a bad outing the other day, and he came and checked on me, to see if I was OK,’’ Kyle Gibson said. “He does things like that all the time.’’
“It is a stressful job,’’ Molitor said. “… The stress is that there is responsibility that people are looking to you for leadership and guidance in how you make decisions day to day, whether in game or out of game.
“You want to meet people’s expectations the best you can by making sure you do your homework and you’re prepared. It’s not always going to work out. Some days you’re going to fail. But if you’re willing to admit that ...
“I think people know that as you’re trying to make them better that you’re trying to get better at the same time.’’