CEDAR RAPIDS — It seemed an appropriate question at first. Then you realized it probably wasn’t.
Toby Gardenhire was asked the other day if anything about his first season as a professional baseball manager surprised him.
A legit query, right? Ordinarily, yeah, but this is not your typical first-year pro skipper.
The leader of the Cedar Rapids Kernels spent seven years in the Minnesota Twins farm system as a player. His dad, Ron, is a baseball lifer who managed in the minor leagues, was a coach and manager for the Twins for years and is managing Detroit now.
After five years coaching at a Division III college program, he was a hitting coach last season for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins and spent some time coaching at Triple-A.
“I kind of knew what I was getting myself into,” Toby Gardenhire said. “I’ve been around this game for a long time, so I kind of had an idea of what I was getting myself into. It just has been a lot of fun. I didn’t know how we were going to do. I knew we were going to be young but talented. It has been nice to see the guys getting better and playing like we are now. Hopefully we can make a run in the playoffs. We’ll see what happens.”
Gardenhire’s Kernels saw an eight-game win streak come to an end Sunday in their penultimate game of the Midwest League regular season. The finale is Monday afternoon at Beloit.
Then it’s the MWL playoffs beginning Wednesday. Game 1 is at either Kane County, Wisconsin or Beloit, with Game 2 and an if-necessary Game 3 back at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
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The Kernels have had a great second half, fashioning a 45-24 record, which is the best in the league and are 77-61 overall. Players have gotten better, the team has won.
Not much more you could ask of a coaching staff that includes hitting coach Brian Dinkelman and co-pitching coaches Cibney Bello and Justin Willard.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve had a really good group of guys. Talent wise, yes, but more just a good group of kids. Guys who come to the park every day and want to work and have fun out there. The other thing is we’ve got a great staff. With Dinkelman here, Bello, Justin Willard, Travis (Koon) our strength coach, Ben (Myers) our trainer, Byron (Oliver) our video guy. We’ve got a great group of guys. It makes it a lot easier when you’re coming to the park and working with a bunch of friends, guys you get along with. That makes it really easy.”
Though he won’t confirm it publicly, published reports this week said Gardenhire, 35, will join the Twins when C.R.’s season is over. That’s a neat thing Minnesota does each year, “promoting” minor-league staff members to the bigs to observe.
Minnesota plays against Detroit in mid-September, which means he’ll be in the opposing dugout from his dad. A really neat deal.
As far as next year, Gardenhire has no idea what’s in store.
“Hopefully I’ll get a job and go somewhere, do something,” he said, with a smile. “That’s my hope. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I don’t know if I’ll be back here or somewhere else. Whatever. I don’t know, I’d like to manage again because I’m having fun doing that. But if they want me to do something else, I guess I’ll do something else. I’m just happy to have a job with the Twins. I’m enjoying myself.”
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