Jim Souhan
See more of the story

Rocco Baldelli set the scene:

"I'm sitting here at home in Rhode Island, wearing pajamas, holding Enzo Baldelli on my lap, and everything's quiet. So we're all doing great. But, yes, our lives have changed."

The Baldellis welcomed their twins, Enzo and Nino, in September, a few days before the Twins clinched the American League Central title. After spending October in the Twin Cities, they repaired to their home in Baldelli's home state of Rhode Island, where they were able to share time with their three children with family and longtime friends.

During quiet moments alone in his office during the playoffs, Baldelli did not look like a man reeling from the pressure of the moment. Instead, he kept smiling like a proud father, thanks to their twins and also the young Twins.

Baldelli became the Twins' manager in October 2018 when he was 37. He had never managed at any level. He was young, inexperienced and tasked with turning around a slumbering franchise.

After posting one of the best win-loss records in all of baseball in his first two seasons, the Twins slumped in 2021 and 2022. While an unimaginable spate of injuries was the cause of the team's collapse in 2022, the record is the record, and this regime's record was plummeting.

In 2023, Baldelli's personal and professional lives changed. Allie and Rocco moved from downtown Minneapolis to a nearby suburb, in part because they needed space for the children, and Baldelli managed like he never had before.

In 2019, the Twins had a plug-and-play lineup. In 2023, with Carlos Correa slumping and Byron Buxton either slumping or unavailable, and young players forcing their way to the big leagues, Baldelli began platooning players and using the bunt and steal more than he ever had before, in part because baseball's rule changes encouraged small ball.

Imagine if someone told you in spring training that Correa and Buxton would deal with injuries all season and produce far beneath expectations. You would not have predicted a division championship and playoff series victory.

The Twins were 24-19 on May 16. They went 16-27 over their next 43 games. As Minnesotans threw up their hands and turned their attention to Vikings training camp, the Twins went 47-32 from that point until the last game of the season, including 17 of their last 26 games to run away with the division.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli joined the team in celebrating the American League Central title on Sept. 22.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli joined the team in celebrating the American League Central title on Sept. 22.

Renée Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

During that last stretch, Baldelli relied heavily on rookies and bench players while juggling a bullpen that searched for reliability in the seventh and eighth innings after setup man Jorge López struggled with physical and mental health, and Brock Stewart and Jorge Alcala spent most of the season injured.

Baldelli probably did more to impact winning in 2023 than he did when he was named American League manager of the year in 2019. Not that he cares about awards. He was noticeably reluctant to publicly celebrate the 2019 award, and he doesn't lobby for attention.

He'd rather talk about fatherhood and jam bands.

Yes, he will try to break the bonds of domestic tranquility to see his favorite band, Phish, this winter. He also recommended King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

"Man, life has changed," he said. "When you're a player during the offseason, the whole day revolves around you and your schedule. You work out, go get a good lunch, come home, sit around, relax. Now, well, we're very lucky, we have a lot of help, but you still don't sleep. We go to bed around 1 and wake up a couple of times, then get up at 5:30 or 6:30. Allie does most of the work, but it's still a crazy schedule to keep.

"So, yeah, I'm still in my pajamas. This is life now."

He felt his life as a manager change during the playoffs. He had never experienced a Target Field crowd that loud, or optimistic, before.

In honor of jam bands, here's some free-form Baldelli, from Rhode Island, in his pajamas:

"I did manage more actively this year because there were more options in front of me because we had a team that could do a lot of different things. It was a multidimensional group and that group kept changing.

"The reality is, I don't care how we win. We are there to win, period, and if we win with me sitting there watching guys whack the ball over the fence, great. And if we win by working for every base, that's great, too.

"I relied on our staff in a big way this year because they needed to help us play this kind of baseball. We were challenging guys to play in ways we haven't played before, and to play positions they didn't usually play, and some of them hadn't played in the big leagues before.

"There were times we talked to the players before the game and said, 'We might be pinch-hitting in the first or second inning.' That doesn't feel right in some ways, because it's never been the way we've done it. Not only did our players sacrifice for this year's team in a way that I haven't been part of before, they produced under difficult circumstances, and they deserve all of the credit for that.

"The best part was that our players were proud of what they accomplished but were not happy at the end. They desired more of themselves and the team. They fully expected to win the pennant and go play in the World Series and win the World Series. The only way you're ever going to win the World Series is if you feel like that.

"Target Field was exceptional. I was going out to the dugout when that first game against the Blue Jays started and wondering what it was going to be like, and it was top of the scale. It was incredible. I got this tingling feeling, and our players and coaches were looking at each other, and we didn't even have to say anything. We would just wink or nod. That's what we were waiting to experience as a baseball team, and it's there, it's real, and hopefully, our fans don't have to wait very long to do that again."