Things turned out pretty well last year when the Twins hired a hitting coach from Mount Vernon, N.Y. So they headed back to Westchester County a second time in search of another relative unknown.
Garvin Alston, who has spent most of his career in the Oakland Athletics organization, was hired as the Twins pitching coach. The Twins also looked at established major league coaches, such as Carl Willis and Jim Hickey, but they went for someone considered to be a smooth communicator.
Does that sound familiar? The Twins felt the same way about James Rowson when they hired him as hitting coach last offseason. Now Rowson and Alston, who knew each other while growing up in Mount Vernon, are on the same staff.
"It's a small world, man," Rowson said. "I'm telling you, it's awesome for us, but I'm really happy for him. He's a really good guy. He's going to fit in well with this group."
Alston said his father used to be Little League commissioner, and Rowson would show up at their home after games — or when there was a barbecue. They kept in touch during their journey through professional baseball and have been able to reconnect during the interview process.
"J-Ro, I love him to death," Alston said. "We definitely knew each other."
Rowson pointed out one specific detail about the 45-year old Alston.
"He's got me beat by four years," Rowson said. "Make sure we know that."
Under Rowson, the Twins offense improved as the season progressed, with several young players taking their games to a new level. The Twins would be happy to see a similar jump under Alston, as their staff's ERA of 4.59 was 19th in baseball this season.
Alston was a 10th-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1992 but pitched in only six major league games. He coached with the Athletics from 2005 to 2015 in various roles. He was the pitching coach for minor league teams. He was a minor league pitching coordinator and minor league rehab coordinator.
He joined the Diamondbacks as their major league bullpen coach in 2016. He spent 2017 as the San Diego Padres' minor league pitching rehab coordinator.
"He's experienced so many roles and responsibilities that we feel will impact us moving forward," said Derek Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer.
Alston sat down with manager Paul Molitor during the interview process for a conversation during which they covered the past, present and future of baseball, the pitcher-manager relationship and how information is disseminated in this age. Just as Rowson talks of helping each player find his swing, Alston wants every pitcher to identify his strength and execute it.
"Not one philosophy," Alston said. "It is the ability to adjust to the actual pitcher and knowing what their strengths are."
Alston will begin to study video of Twins pitchers in the majors and minor leagues and will make introductory phone calls to pitchers and coaches. He said he wants to learn about them as people, too, which is one of the many traits Falvey spoke of when describing Alston.
"We set out to find the best pitching coach for our ballclub," Falvey said. "One who had a deep understanding of pitching development, can build exceptional relationships, build our culture and someone who would really grow with us moving forward.
"In Garvin, we felt we checked all those boxes. And then some."
Falvey missed one box, though. He focused so much on Alston's professional background that he was unaware of the Mount Vernon connection between Alston and Rowson until after the interview process had begun.
"I tripped up on that," Falvey said while laughing, "and have to take ownership of that."
Dozier, Buxton are Gold Glove finalists
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier and center fielder Byron Buxton are finalists for their first Gold Gloves.
Dozier's AL competition is Detroit's Ian Kinsler and Boston's Dustin Pedroia. Buxton is in a group with Kansas City's Lorenzo Cain and Toronto's Kevin Pillar.
The last Twin to win a Gold Glove was Joe Mauer in 2010 (at catcher).
The AL and NL winners will be announced on Nov. 7.