Twins' Gardenhire happy to be back on Blizzard TourTwins manager Ron Gardenhire was in Proctor on Wednesday night as part of the kickoff to the 15th annual Black Woods Blizzard Tour, a three-day snowmobile ride through Northeastern Minnesota that raises money in the fight against ALS.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
Perhaps former Minnesota Twins utility man Al Newman said it best last summer when he described the organization’s loyalty.
“You really have to screw up to be kicked out of any family, especially the Minnesota Twins,” Newman said.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, however, knows loyalty will only get you so far, even in Minnesota.
Gardenhire, 56, was in Proctor on Wednesday night as part of the kickoff to the 15th annual Black Woods Blizzard Tour, a three-day snowmobile ride through Northeastern Minnesota that raises money in the fight against ALS.
This year’s fundraising goal is to top last year’s record of $800,000.
Gardenhire is serving as a tour host with Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach, infield coach Joe Vavra and former players Kent Hrbek and Tim Laudner. Steinbach and Hrbek both lost their fathers to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a debilitating motor neuron disease commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease.
This is Gardenhire’s 12th straight tour, but some of his fellow riders were wondering if he would even be the Twins manager this year, let alone make the tour.
“I’ve never wanted to leave,” Gardenhire said. “I love it here.”
The Twins are mired in the doldrums, with back-to-back 66-96 seasons, but rather than part ways, the Twins gave Gardenhire a two-year extension in September.
While some would say Gardenhire could only do so much given the team’s roster, he wasn’t using that as an excuse.
“I’m the one who is accountable,” Gardenhire said. “It’s my job to try to figure out a way to win with the players we have or I’m not doing my job. I don’t want to lose any more than the next guy, so we’ve all got to be better for the sake of the organization. It’s all about the Minnesota Twins. That’s what it’s all about.”
While the Twins’ offense is mostly intact from last year, the team hopes an influx of $83 million into the pitching staff helps keeps scores tight.
“We’ve got a lot to work on,” Gardenhire said. “Our offense struggled, too, but if you’re not swinging the bat, you’ve got to at least give yourselves a chance to win games with pitching.”
Gardenhire just completed his 12th season with the Twins and is the second-longest tenured manager in Major League Baseball after the Angels’ Mike Scioscia. Gardenhire has been involved with the organization for roughly 25 years, including a stint as a minor league shortstop in the 1980s.
After all those years, it’s hard to picture Gardenhire not affiliated with the team and not taking part in the Blizzard Tour. He was riding on this year’s tour with his wife, Carol, who is from White Bear Lake, Minn.
“You can tell they love the event, and honestly, I think Ron would still take part even if he was no longer with the team,” said Mike Archer of Duluth, a longtime Blizzard Tour rider. “We all like to socialize and have a good time, but nobody hounds the Twins people. On the tour, you’re just another rider. We’re all part of a big extended family, getting together for a great cause.”
Gardenhire has a career-record of 998-947 and trails only his predecessor, Tom Kelly, who tops the Twins’ all-time wins list with 1,140 victories.
Gardenhire was named American League manager of the year after guiding the Twins to a 94-68 record and Central Division title in 2010. The team has averaged just 65 wins in the three seasons since, leading to speculation Gardenhire’s job was in jeopardy.
“You don’t get stupid overnight,” said Steinbach, one of the 16 riders who have participated in every Black Woods Blizzard Tour. “You don’t get named manager of the year, and then all of the sudden, don’t know what you’re doing the next year. It’s a reflection on the talent that you have. Yeah, you’re responsible for getting the most out of your players, but I don’t think it’s any secret the Twins felt they could give him more talent to work with. There is no doubt in my mind what kind of manager he is.”
Gardenhire participated in his first Blizzard Tour in 2003 after being asked by Steinbach. It was the first time Gardenhire ever had been on a snowmobile. Now, one might mistake Gardenhire as the guy from Minnesota, and not Steinbach and Hrbek.
Gardenhire was born in West Germany and raised in Oklahoma, but he seems such a natural on the Blizzard Tour.
While Gardenhire has kept a second house in recent years in Florida, he has lived year-round in Minnesota since 1995. One winter, as a fill-in goalie, he even took shots from former NHL player Darby Hendrickson for another ALS fundraiser.
“This is it for me,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve met a lot of great friends here, and I’ve gotten into snowmobiling, ice fishing, even playing goalie — the whole package.”
Gardenhire is an honest, straight-talking guy, one who is laidback off the field but occasionally fiery on it. That kind of attitude has lent itself well to the people of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, the same type of people Gardenhire has met on the Blizzard Tour.
“These people have taught me an awful lot, by how much kindness they’ve shown, and how much passion and respect they have for sports,” Gardenhire said. “They’re straight honest, whether it hurts or not, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”