Sid Hartman
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I was not a fan of the Twins’ decision to fire Paul Molitor in October, only one year after being named AL Manager of the Year.

But one thing has become clear during this offseason: new manager Rocco Baldelli is winning over Twins fans in a hurry.

At a recent meeting of the Dunkers in downtown Minneapolis, Baldelli was as well-received as any new coach in recent memory. All reports are that he did a great job on the Twins caravan around the Midwest.

“The community relationship with the team is an exceptional relationship, and something where we think it’s special,” Baldelli said. “I can see that now. I’m sitting here and going out on the caravan, it is a territory. This isn’t just the metro area. The metro area is very important, but unlike other teams, you get out in the car and you drive and get out on the bus and we’re stopping at little diners and eating and meeting people and everyone came out, regardless of where we were.

“We kept seeing all these kids and we’re thinking, ‘School is in, what is going on here?’ But it was worth it, because to have the chance to come and meet the Minnesota Twins for a lot of people, you can tell it’s very meaningful. It’s not something I have seen before. I’m actually really excited about not just what I have seen already but to get into the season and see what it looks like during the season.”

Coaching staff ready

This is Baldelli’s first job as a major league manager, after years as a player and coach. His staff includes a few coaches carried over from Molitor’s staff, but also a lot of new faces. With spring training getting underway in two weeks, Baldelli spoke about some of his hires.

The name Twins fans will most recognize is Derek Shelton, who remains as bench coach after also interviewing for the manager position. Shelton was hired last season as the bench coach under Molitor, but he has known Baldelli for a long time.

Baldelli and Shelton first worked together in 2010, Shelton’s first season as hitting coach for the Rays and Baldelli’s final season as a player. Baldelli would play in only 10 games, going 5-for-25 with one home run and five RBI before injuries and medical issues ended his playing career.

They also worked together in Tampa Bay for two seasons after Baldelli was hired as a first base coach for the 2015 season. Shelton stayed in Tampa Bay through 2016 before heading to Toronto as a quality control coach.

“I have a lot of history with [Shelton],” Baldelli said. “He is our bench coach, he is a wonderful baseball person and has a tremendous personality. He also has been here and knows the ins and the outs of the players and the organization. That is very, very helpful in my mind.”

“I’m actually really excited about not just what I have seen already but to get into the season and see what it looks like during the season”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli

Baldelli’s most unorthodox hire was Wes Johnson, the first pitching coach to jump directly from college baseball to the major leagues. Johnson was one of the most respected pitching coaches in the country and helped lead Arkansas to the finals of the College World Series in 2018.

Baldelli said he thinks Johnson’s skills will be put to even better use because of the Twins’ huge staff to help him analyze pitchers.

“He was doing things really with — I don’t want to say no resources, but few resources — and he has been able to accomplish a lot in the college game without the help that we get on the professional level,” Baldelli said. “We have teams of people and [research and development] groups and we’re e-mailing and putting phone calls in and people are figuring things out for us. He was doing it all on his own. He had a research assistant and a volunteer coach. This is a guy we are excited to really let loose with all of our guys upstairs.”

Stability on offense

While the pitching staff will have a new direction, the hitting staff will remain mostly the same, with James Rowson as hitting coach and Rudy Hernandez as assistant hitting coach.

“J-Row and Rudy Hernandez, our hitting coaches, will be returning,” Baldelli said. “They will be back and truthfully, I [only] got a chance to know J-Row. Rudy is actually in Venezuela coaching in winter ball, so he has been away. I’m really looking forward to Rudy getting back up here for spring training and getting a chance to spend some time with him.”

Tony Diaz will join the team as third base coach after 19 years in the Rockies organization, and Baldelli explained why his hire was so vital.

“Truthfully, I thought it was a real important thing to add another Spanish-speaking coach to our coaching roster,” he said. “He has a tremendous background with the Colorado Rockies. He built his career. He started [coaching and managing] in rookie ball and worked all the way up to the big leagues.

“Not everyone’s background works like that in baseball. That is a tremendous thing when you actually see guys and you learn a lot about them watching their career direction in the game. He worked his way all the way up and was [the Rockies’] first base coach and we’re going to make him our third base coach and … being the head of all of our infielders and he’s going to do our base running. He has a lot of utility.”

Another key addition was Bill Evers, who has coached and managed in the majors and minors for 30 years and also worked with Baldelli in Tampa Bay.

“Bill Evers is going to be our catching guy and he managed the Durham Bulls, was the bench coach for the Rays,” Baldelli said. “He has had a long career, is a friend of mine and an excellent baseball man.”

Jottings

• The Rams’ Sean McVay, at 33, is the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history. McVay made his name as offensive coordinator with the Redskins from 2014 to ’16. In 2015, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had his first year as a full-time starter in Washington. The Redskins went 9-7 while Cousins threw for 4,166 yards and completed a league-high 69.8 percent of his passes. McVay was hired as head coach of the Rams in January of 2017.

• ESPN.com predicts the Gophers as an 11th seed in their most recent NCAA basketball tournament projections and has them tied for the 21st-best record against quality opponents this season at 4-3. The only Big Ten teams with better records are Michigan (6-1) and Michigan State (8-3).

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • shartman@startribune.com