FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — On Tuesday night, Twins manager Paul Molitor caught Bruce Springsteen’s concert across the state in Sunrise, Florida.
Molitor and the Boss have developed, if not a friendship, a mutual respect since meeting at Yankee Stadium in 1998, Molitor’s final season as player, wrapping up his 21-year career.
The pair of Hall of Famers in their respective careers chatted before the show.
It gave Molitor a chance to be in what his wife calls one of his happier places. There are precious few opportunities for a major league manager for those kinds of leisurely nights from now until the end of the season.
But, with Twins pitchers and catchers reporting Monday, Molitor hopes his second season as a manager will lead him to another one of those happier places — the postseason.
The Twins narrowly missed out last season, finishing 83-79 in second place in the American League Central, three games out of a wild-card spot. They were in the hunt until the final weekend.
A respectable finish, but not the one he wanted.
“It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth,” Molitor said. “But I’m looking at the new year as a new challenge. I understand that there are some things that can carry over, especially as experience is gained by staff and players.
“But I certainly don’t assume that you just are naturally going to improve, because every year kind of stands on its own.”
Molitor, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, had never managed at any level before taking over the Twins last season.
“I had a lot of fun,” he said. “And I mention that because I think until you do something you’re not sure how well it’s going to fit, either how you think or how it’s going to be challenging and how you’re going to handle the day-to-day expectations that come with the position.
“So I enjoyed it. It was educational. I think that you kind of develop a newfound respect for people who have done it, especially people who have done it for a long time.
“There’s different things you need to know in this role that you didn’t need to know in other roles. And sometimes you feel humbled.”
Molitor, who grew up in St. Paul and was drafted out of the University of Minnesota by the Brewers with the third overall pick in 1977, played the final three years of his career with the Twins.
He began his coaching career in 2001 with the Twins as bench coach for Tom Kelly. He had also been a scout and a special assistant, a roving coach for the organization’s minor league teams, and a coach for Ron Gardenhire, the man he replaced last season.
General manager Terry Ryan had no qualms handing the manager’s job to Molitor and has watched him grow into the role.
“The main piece to this thing is he’s been around for about a decade in our minor leagues,” Ryan said.
“So it wasn’t all that difficult to think with his baseball history and his experience as a player and his experience as a hitting coach and a minor league rover and his knowledge of the market and living in Minnesota — he knows all about us. It fit pretty well obviously and he did a heckuva job.
“He’s about as good a baseball man as I’ve ever been around.”
It didn’t take the GM long to know he had made the right decision. The Twins struggled early last season, going 1-7 before three consecutive wins.
“Nobody really cracked,” Ryan said. “That was a pretty good sign that he had control, ‘Listen, don’t panic. We’re in the first week to 10 days of the season.’ He was calm and he was patient and he had a plan and approach and all the stuff that comes with leadership.”
Now, with a year of experience, Molitor is looking forward to getting the season started.
“I would like us to set a goal of playing extended baseball in the fall,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge that we have now that we have a little bit more expectations on our team at least from our fan base and people in our organization.
“I still see that we’re not picked to do very well by a lot of people. But I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to push us to the next level.”
Early Sunday morning, one of Molitor’s coaches poked his head into the manager’s office.
“Hi, boss,” he said.
For now, that’s Molitor’s title. The other guy will have to wait.
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