FORT MYERS, FLA. – Bill Smith was standing on the outside passage to the fourth floor of Hammond Stadium. Straight ahead was the long, palm tree-lined approach to the Twins' spring training ballpark.
"Twenty-five years later, the trees, the walkway, the grass cutouts … it's still a gorgeous view for an escapee from Minnesota winter,'' someone said.
Smith smiled and said: "We were having one of the planning meetings down here, and there was talk about the desire for a dramatic entrance to the stadium. Someone from the Lee County commission suggested that we put three large pools in the middle of this tree-lined entrance.
"Jim Yarbrough said, 'Are you crazy? Do you have any idea the maintenance costs and headaches with pools?' The person said, 'Well, then what are we going to do? We can't just have concrete.'
"And Jim said, 'Grass. We can grow grass.'''
Smith laughed slightly and said: "The grass cutouts in the concrete look pretty good. And we have the fountain at the front of the stadium."
Yarbrough was the long-serving parks and recreation director for Lee County. Bill Hammond was the assistant county manager and had the ballpark named after him. Jim Lavender was the director of planning and construction for the county.
They were important figures in the process of constructing the ballpark that opened in 1991. So was Bill Smith.
On Tuesday, Smith gave a tour to Yarbrough, Hammond and Lavender of the $48.5 million in additions and remodeling that has taken place at Hammond Stadium and what's now called the CenturyLink Sports Complex.
The threesome was impressed. Everyone is going to be.
The academy building that has 54 double rooms for minor leaguers, a dining room, study areas and meeting space is spectacular.
There's a new auxiliary field — the fifth at the complex — built with the exact dimensions of Target Field that will serve as the home of the Gulf Coast League rookie team.
Over at Hammond … well, claustrophobia sufferers can now feel safe in traversing the outside corridor behind the main grandstand.
"When the moves were made after 2011, one thing [Twins President] Dave St. Peter said was, 'There are a couple of major projects upcoming that we'd like to have you work on,' '' Smith said.
"We agreed that I'd take a couple of months to decide if I wanted to continue in that type of role.''
Smith was named the Twins' general manager on Oct. 1, 2007, when Terry Ryan resigned.
The 2008 Twins went 88-75, losing 1-0 in a Game 163 to the Chicago White Sox. The 2009 Twins went 87-76, winning a dramatic Game 163 against Detroit in the Metrodome. The 2010 Twins opened Target Field with another division title and a 94-68 record.
And then: Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the 2011 Twins' stupendous, 31-game fall to 63-99.
"Yeah, everything did … but it's baseball, and you are judged by results,'' Smith said.
The "moves'' to which Smith referred were made on Nov. 7, 2011: Smith was fired and Ryan returned as general manager, first as interim and then with the full title.
The 99 losses were followed by 96, 96 and 92.
Thirty-nine months later, Smith still can find himself being pointed to in articles (and by anonymous Internet commenters to those articles) as the main culprit in the Twins' demise.
"I used to send a few of the communications I received to my parents,'' Smith said. "I'd say, 'See, Dad, you have to take the bad with the good.' ''
What did Dad think of those?
"W.E. Smith, a 30-year military officer, a retired captain in the Coast Guard … what did he think?'' Smith said.
"He loves his son, so he didn't like it.''
Bill Smith, now 57, took only a few weeks to get back to St. Peter and start negotiating a new assignment with the Twins.
It would not be management; it would be dealing with important projects.
Thus, the title: special assistant to the president and general manager.
And both the man who told him he was fired (St. Peter) and the man who replaced him (Ryan) trusted Smith fully to get the best out of the $48.5 million in improvements at the Florida site that is really the heartbeat of the organization — and after this, to make wise use of the $15-16 million the Twins will be splitting with the Phillies for a new two-team complex in the Dominican Republic.
Here's Bill Smith as a person:
He gave me a tour of the improvements here and then sat for an interview on Tuesday.
Later, as I was leaving the stadium at 7:15 p.m., he was waiting to make sure an article wouldn't be written that pictured him as a one-man force in the Fort Myers project.
He detailed the efforts of Twins executives and employees — Matt Hoy, Dan Starkey, John Avenson, Brian Maloney and Paul Froehle, to name a handful — and cited Lee County leaders and construction managers by name.
"I'm just lucky to be part of this, working with such dedicated people,'' he said.
Considering 2011, Bill Smith was due such luck.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org