Ron Gardenhire was sitting in his Oakdale home this week with his three children and three grandchildren. And, big surprise, he was up to shenanigans.
"This morning when I was over at the house, he had my sister's baby, River," said Toby Gardenhire, his son and current St. Paul Saints manager. "And he was pretending to give River some Mountain Dew."
When Gardenhire's daughter, Tiffany, snapped at him to stop, he responded. "I'm trying to give him a sugar high!"
"It's nonstop," Toby said, "but it's mostly with the kids now."
Gardenhire has retired from managing, but his pursuit of a laugh has not ceased. When he wasn't getting tossed from games — he's seventh all time with 84 ejections — he was gregarious, quick-witted and plotting his next prank. Anyone was a target. Teammates, players he managed, media members. Even his family. Except his wife, Carol. She was a no-go zone.
There was a three-year run where a young Toby would come home from Emmet D. Williams Elementary School in Roseville and his father would be ready with a surprise.
"He was really big on the last day of school, always getting us when we were coming home," Toby Gardenhire said. "He would hide in the bushes and jump out throwing water balloons at me or jump out with Super Soakers and chase me down."
That is one quality that made Gardy ... Gardy.
Gardenhire is in town this week to be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame, part of a class that includes Dan Gladden and Cesar Tovar. In addition to the other members of the Twins Hall of Fame, a sizeable group of former players are expected to travel to the Twin Cities to support Gardenhire, who liked to keep things loose in the clubhouse and whose personality rubbed off on everyone he encountered.
Gardenhire, a coach for 11 years before getting his chance to manage, was 1,068-1,039 in 13 years running the Twins. He was 132-241 in three seasons with Detroit before stepping down for health reasons. He spends most of his time in the Fort Myers, Fla., area but recently purchased a home in Oakdale.
He was named Twins manager Jan. 4, 2002, following an offseason of contraction threats. I was so thrilled to be done with contraction talk that I asked Gardenhire what his lineup was. Without batting an eye, he said that Jacque Jones would be his leadoff hitter.
Would that really work? Infielder Denny Hocking predicted the move would immediately pay off. On Opening Day in Kansas City, Jones drove the second pitch of the game over the left-field wall for his first of 11 leadoff home runs that season. From the top step of the dugout, Hocking looked up toward the press box and shrugged his shoulders.
That signaled the start of a run of six division titles from 2002-2010. And plenty of laughs along the way.
Gardenhire was great for a quote, even at the expense of his players. During spring training of 2011, St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Tom Powers asked Gardenhire if portly lefthander Jose Mijares was in shape.
"He's in a shape," Gardenhire replied.
He once pranked David Ortiz with an exploding golf ball at a charity tournament, making Ortiz think he had big-time power. Well, he did.
His office desk was a minefield of devices such as pens and soda cans and calculators that delivered a shock when touched. He'd ask someone to pass him his can of soda, then laugh as they dropped the can after being shocked.
He once tricked pitcher Mike Pelfrey with a fake call from Wichita State asking Pelfrey, a former Shockers player and currently their pitching coach, to address the team before its NCAA men's basketball tournament game. Pelfrey thought he was firing up the actual team when it was Glen Perkins and some clubhouse attendants on a speakerphone in a nearby room.
The baseball season is a long one, and Gardenhire liked to keep a clubhouse loose. And he did so like few managers did.
Gardy was a very good manager because of his ability to handle players. But he's an even better person.