Gardenhire loves Twins but will 'try to whip their butts'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Ron Gardenhire faced his former team, the Minnesota Twins, as an opposing manager for the first time on Monday.

Minneapolis — Welcome to Gardy-fest.

All the local news stations, his former beat writers and columnists  a veritable media horde amassed in the visitor's dugout before the game Monday to welcome the much-loved Ron Gardenhire back to Target Field.

“Oh, hell no,” he said when he came up through the tunnel and saw all the television cameras.

From 1991 through 2014, Gardenhire was part of the fabric of the Twins organization  the first 11 years as a coach under Tom Kelly, and the last 13 years as manager. Even though this was technically his second trip in with a visiting team  he came through with the Diamondbacks last season  this was his first trip back as the opposing manager.

“It’s always going to be in your history and in your blood,” Gardenhire said of his Twins ties. “I live here. I have a house here. This organization showed me the most respect you can get as a coach or a manager. You know what, I will always love this place. That will never go away.

“But now I’ve got a job to do and that’s to bring my Tiger boys in here and try to whip their butts.”

More: Tigers may soon send three to Toledo for rehab stints

Gardenhire has beaten prostate cancer and lost nearly 50 pounds since some of these folks seen him last.

“I make way less money now than I made in Minnesota,” he joked. “I can’t afford to eat as much. No. I had the health issue and I knew I had to take care of myself once I got away from baseball and all the great food in the clubhouse.

“I just started to walk and ride bikes with my wife, I started to eat better  pretty simple. It came off pretty easy because I was super fat.”

There wasn’t a lot of new ground covered before the game  Gardenhire wasn’t about to let his return be the headline and overshadow the game. But he did reveal, more forthrightly than before, that he wasn’t really seeking another managerial job when the Red Sox and Tigers called last winter.

“I wasn’t worried about (managing again) at all,” he said. “Last year in Arizona (as bench coach for Torey Lovullo) was fun. I took that job just to do something. Torey asked me and I wanted to see what it was like not to run a ballclub. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

“I managed for a long time. It wasn’t one of those things I’d put on my bucket list to do again. But I’m happy here. I’m really enjoying it. “

Wasn’t the fire burning inside to manage again?

“Not really, no,” Gardenhire said. “I was pretty happy, just driving my RV around and seeing my grandbabies. It wasn’t too bad doing what I wanted to do, living like every other American who is on vacation. I enjoyed it.”

So what brought him back?

“I’m a baseball guy,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve been in baseball my whole life. It’s all I’ve ever done. And when I interviewed with a really nice group of guys here  Al Kaline and Alan Trammell  if that doesn’t rock your head, nothing will.

“Al Avila and his staff have been nothing but fantastic. We had good conversations about baseball, about where this team is going and, honestly, I felt like I could help them.”

It’s working out pretty well so far, for all parties.