FORT MYERS, FLA. – Bob Allen was driving home from his job as an elevator mechanic in the Kansas City area one afternoon in 1960 when he blew through a stop sign. He had blamed a couple of other incidents with his vision on weariness after long days of work, but this near miss caused him to visit a doctor.

"My dad was told he had retinitis pigmentosa and that he would be legally blind within a year," Neil Allen said. "You don't think that will shake you? … Having a wife and four young kids at home and finding out that at best you're going to see shadows for the rest of your life?"

Neil, the youngest of four kids, was 2 at the time. He grew up with a major asset as an athlete — a powerful right arm for throwing a baseball or football. His dad's major interest was in baseball.

"I wasn't very old when he taught me how to grip a curveball," Allen said. "That turned out to be my best pitch. My dad would sit in the dugout and help coach during games. He couldn't see, but he could hear. If he wasn't hearing the ball hit the catcher's mitt on time, he would shout, 'Tempo.'

"He thought it was very important for a pitcher to work at a good pace."

Allen was a standout quarterback for Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., and was headed to Kansas State on a football scholarship. In the spring of 1976, his senior year, he was matched against Terry Sutcliffe, Rick's younger brother, pitching for Van Horn High School.

"There were a bunch of scouts there to watch Sutcliffe, and I beat him 1-0," Allen said. "All of a sudden, our phone started ringing, with teams saying they were interested in drafting me."

The New York Mets took Allen in the 11th round. Neil's first inclination was to stick with football. His dad said, "It's up to you, BUT …"

Neil Allen was sitting in a row of bleachers on a back field at the Twins minor league complex and laughed in memory of that conversation with his father:

"He said, 'Neil, you're not a rocket scientist and you don't have the discipline to sit down and do the academic work. Plus, if you play football and get beat up and have your shoulder ruined, then you don't have either … football or baseball.' "

Allen laughed again and said: "This was Kansas State before Bill Snyder. I probably would've had my neck broken.

"The Mets gave me $6,000; about $4,000 after taxes. Man, I thought I was Hugh Hefner. I went out and bought a 1976 Grand Prix with a T-top."

Soon, Allen was home from a summer in rookie ball and the Midwest League, working a winter job on the docks in the "bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri."

Allen found something on those overnights, loading 18-wheelers: motivation.

"Hardest job ever," he said. "Every time I picked up a box, I thought, 'I have to get to the big leagues.' "

Back to the big leagues

It took Neil Allen three years to get to the big leagues as a pitcher. He made his major league debut as a 21-year-old starter for the Mets on April 15, 1979, a 6-3 loss to the Phillies at Shea Stadium.

It took Neil Allen 20 years of coaching to get to the big leagues as a pitching coach. He will be in a major league park in that role for the first time on April 6, when the Twins open the season against the Tigers in Detroit's Comerica Park.

He will be doing so as a 57-year-old who has gone through alcoholism and family tragedy, and has come through it as a devoted single parent to his 15-year-old son, Bobby.

The Twins broke up the 13-year tandem of manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson when Gardenhire was fired the day after the 2014 season ended.

Paul Molitor was hired as manager five weeks later. The immediate speculation was that Molitor wanted Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, a former Brewers teammate, but the Cubs were intent on keeping Bosio.

Allen was the Class AAA pitching coach for Tampa Bay, and on the Twins' radar because of the success the Rays had in pushing young pitchers to the big leagues.

Surprisingly, neither Molitor nor General Manager Terry Ryan had a face-to-face with Allen before hiring him. There were strong recommendations for Allen, and lengthy phone conversations, but Molitor and Allen first met when they had a four-hour conversation on TwinsFest weekend.

"We want to start over with our pitching here, approach things a little differently, and I'm optimistic Neil will bring that," Molitor said. "He certainly warrants the opportunity, after what he was able to accomplish in the Rays system."

Staying with baseball

Allen started as a pitching coach for the independent Mobile (Ala.) Bay Sharks in 1994. "Butch Hobson was the manager, and called and offered the job," Allen said. "I said, 'Nah, Butch, I'm not a coach.' He said, 'Yeah, what else are you doing?' He had me there.

"Making no money, taking long bus rides in the summer heat of the South, but I loved it. Loved working with pitchers and seeing them light up, the enthusiasm, when you gave them something that worked."

The Blue Jays hired Allen for a job in the low minors in 1996. He spent one summer in Medicine Hat, Alberta, living in a room above a bowling alley, taking 17-hour bus rides to Ogden, Utah, and he still loved it.

Joe Torre, Allen's original manager with the Mets, brought in Allen for the 2005 season as the Yankees bullpen coach, but then it was back to being a pitching coach — for the Yankees' Class AAA team in Columbus, Ohio, and then for eight years with the Tampa Bay organization.

1994 was more than the start of Allen's coaching career. It also was the year that his father, desperately ill, asked Neil to sit on the edge of the bed and said: "Please give up the bottle. Your drinking is killing your mother."

Bob Allen knew how to strike a chord with his youngest son.

"My two brothers were also home to be with Dad," Neil said. "There was a six-pack of Falstaff in the refrigerator. We sat at the kitchen table, drank two beers apiece, and I haven't had a drink since."

Two years later, he married Lisa, and Bobby came along, and life was great. In September 2012, Durham had missed the playoffs and Neil was home in Sarasota, Fla. He got home that night, Lisa was reading in bed, and she called out to Bobby to shut off the light and go to sleep.

"I said, 'I got it, sport,' flipped off Bobby's light, and went into our room," Allen said. "We talked for a couple of minutes, Lisa turned off her reading light, and then I heard a little gasp. Just like that."

Lisa Allen, an excellent tennis player and workout enthusiast, had suffered an instantly fatal aneurysm at age 54.

"My instinct after the initial heartbreak for everyone was to quit baseball and to be a full-time parent to my son," Allen said. "The person who talked me out of that was Bobby. He loves baseball. He knows I love it, too. He said, 'Dad, you can't quit. I don't want that. And you know Mom wouldn't want that.' "

Neil Allen squinted into the sun. He looked at a few early arrivals for spring training on a nearby ballfield. He took a deep breath of cool morning air.

"So here I am," he said. "Can't wait to get started."