CEDAR RAPIDS — He began his coaching career in college, but there’s just something about professional baseball that Toby Gardenhire loves.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. He played it for seven seasons and grew up around it as the son of a major league player and manager.
So when the Minnesota Twins asked him to become a hitting coach in their minor league system last year, he took it. Now he’s the new skipper of the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
“When I got hired by the Twins to be a hitting coach, one of the things (we) talked about was the possibility of me being a manager at some point,” Gardenhire said Saturday afternoon. “I was hoping that I’d get the opportunity. I didn’t know that I was going to get a chance this soon, didn’t really know it was going to happen. But I’m thankful that I’m getting the opportunity and am really looking forward to it.”
The 35-year-old replaces Tommy Watkins, whom the Twins are bumping to Double-A Chattanooga for the 2018 season. Last season’s coaching staff of Brian Dinkelman (hitting) and J.P. Martinez (pitching) will remain intact.
It’ll be a reunion for Gardenhire and Dinkelman, who were road roommates as players in Double-A and Triple-A and apartment mates at Triple-A Rochester in 2010 and 2011.
Dinkelman makes his offseason home in Cedar Rapids with his wife and young daughter.
“Funny how things have come full circle,” Gardenhire said. “I always said I thought one day me and Dink would probably be on the same coaching staff, because I knew we’d both end up getting into coaching. To have this chance to be on the same coaching staff with him is awesome.”
Gardenhire was a 41st-round draft pick of the Twins in 2005 out of the University of Illinois. He hit .232 in 533 career minor league games, his playing career ending after the 2011 season.
He then spent five years as head coach at Division III Wisconsin-Stout, before being coaxed back into pro ball by then Twins farm director Brad Steil. Gardenhire’s dad, Ron, was a coach for the Twins and then managed them for 13 years.
Ron Gardenhire recently was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers.
The younger Gardenhire got the opportunity to spend the first half of last season as third-base coach for Rochester. He was with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins as hitting coach the final half of the season, managing the club from time to time when Manager Ramon Borrego would be in the Dominican Republic tending to other organizational duties.
“So I kind of got a little prep for the managing stuff,” he said. “To get a head coaching job in college right after I was done playing was a really cool deal. It was fun, I really liked college baseball, it was exciting, different. I taught at the school there, did a lot of different things.
“But in the end, I played pro ball for (seven) seasons, and I love the Twins. They’ve been my whole life ... I got to the point where I wanted to do this. I love Fort Myers, love spring training, love the whole atmosphere. Everything that pro baseball kind of brings in.”
The Kernels open the 2018 season Thursday, April 5, at Quad Cities. The home opener is Saturday, April 7, against the River Bandits.
The Midwest League club announced this week its annual Hot Stove Banquet is Wednesday, Jan. 17, at the Eastbank Venue and Lounge in downtown Cedar Rapids. Twins players and former Kernels players Zack Granite and Mitch Garver are scheduled to appear as part of the Twins’ annual Winter Caravan.
In other news, Jake Mauer, who managed the Kernels from 2013 to 2016, will not be a part of the Twins organization in 2018. Mauer won the Double-A Southern League championship at Chattanooga this past season but turned down an offer from Minnesota to be a roving minor-league instructor for the club, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Friday.
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