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Humble Baldelli Makes Big Impression

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July 9, 2019

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As Major League Baseball pauses this week for its annual All-Star Game break, the Minnesota Twins are the surprise team of the American League with over half of their 162-game schedule completed. At 56-33 the Twins have the third best record in the AL and lead the Central Division by 5.5 games over the Cleveland Indians.

Before the season began no one thought the Twins, who finished with a 78-84 record last season, would have more than 50 wins at the All-Star break. If there was such an honor as Mid-Season American League Manager of the Year, the award would likely go to Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli.

Falvey & Levine

Last fall at age 37 he became the youngest manager in the majors. Twins front office executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine gambled their reputations last year by firing Paul Molitor, a Minnesota sports icon and the 2017 AL Manager of the Year. Baldelli had four previous years as a coach for the Tampa Rays but no managerial experience on any level.

Falvey didn’t hesitate when asked if Baldelli would receive his vote if there were a contest to name a Manager of the Year in July. “In my opinion, of course,” Falvey told Sports Headliners. “He’s been everything we could have asked for and more.

“And I think he’d be the first person to tell you there’s five other guys (managers) he’d vote for…because that’s his humility. That’s what he cares about. …What I get to see inside (of Baldelli) is even more special than what he does on the outside. I am really proud that we have him.”

Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer, was aware of Baldelli’s humility before he hired him and saw that attribute among several that would make the former big league outfielder an outstanding leader. “I (also) saw…a guy who had done a lot of things in baseball. He hadn’t managed yet but he’d been an All-Star player, he’d been a key prospect, he’d had his career cut short by adversity.

“This guy had faced some challenges in his life, but he was also a great coach. He had impacted young players, he had impacted veteran players, and he does it all with an intense humility. So I think that what I saw in him more than anything was just a true leader. Someone who has all the leadership capabilities that in my mind you could see translating into the role of manager, even though he hadn’t done it yet.”

The Twins are a diverse group with players from the United States and other places. They are a mix of young and older players, many of whom are new to the organization. And yet collectively the Twins appear to be an all-for-one bunch that has rapport and celebrates each other’s success. Player leaders like 39–year-old DH Nelson Cruz have played important roles in the culture, but of course Baldelli has as well.

Falvey knows his manager not only relates very well to his players, but to everyone else in the organization including scouts, analysts and front office personnel. “He can interact with anybody but he also has the strength of his convictions,” Falvey said. “I think he believes in certain things around the game, the way it needs to be played. I think it (Baldelli’s convictions) lines up really well with our organization and what our collective views are in terms of our values for our baseball team, and I couldn’t be happier with what he has done.”

Baldelli played seven seasons in the majors, six with the Rays and one with the Boston Red Sox. In 2003 he finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting. The first-year outfielder hit .289, the highest average of any rookie in the league.

Baldelli missed the entire 2005 season due to elbow and knee surgeries. Injuries limited the rest of his career and he retired as a player at age 29 in 2010.

The Twins play with the fight and determination Baldelli demonstrated as a player–persevering through injuries and winning close games. That kind of character prompts Falvey to be optimistic his club can continue its success in the second half of the season.

“We play every game like it’s our last,” Falvey said. “We try and win every night. We’re not going to win them all. We know that, but I truly believe that if we continue to play the way we’ve been playing, we’re going to put ourselves in a great position late in the season.”

Worth Noting

Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco represents the Twins as the starting American League shortstop in tonight’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. Polanco, who turned 26 last week, is having the best start yet to his still brief MLB career, and he ranks fifth in AL batting average at .312.

Former Twins manager Paul Molitor gave Polanco opportunities to establish himself as the club’s starting shortstop in 2017 and 2018. Molitor also worked in the Twins organization prior to managing and he has been familiar with Polanco’s potential for about a decade.

“I knew that there was a chance that he was going to do some special things offensively,” Molitor told Sports Headliners. “You know, when we signed him as a 16-year-old kid, everyone talked about his defense, and his hands, and all those type of things. But as it has turned out, he has been more than adequate defensively…(and) one of the elite players offensively in the American League.”

Tyus Jones

It will be a surprise if Tyus Jones is on the Timberwolves roster by week’s end. Gersson Rosas, the club’s president of basketball operations, must soon match a reported qualifying offer of three years and $28 million from the Memphis Grizzlies for Jones, or lose the restricted free agent. The Wolves, who likely believe $28 million is too pricey for the Minnesota native point guard, seem likely to let Jones leave Minneapolis after four years with the NBA club unless they sign him with intentions of packaging him in a trade.

Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders has known Jones since he was in high school at Apple Valley. Although Jones has been a backup in the NBA with the Wolves, it seemed possible that his role could expand under Saunders, partially because of their solid relationship. But it’s Rosas, not Saunders, who is making the ultimate decisions regarding personnel.

At about 6-feet and under 200 pounds, Jones is undersized as a pro and defense certainly isn’t his strength. But among his attributes is making big plays when games are about to be decided. It’s the same ability he showed in high school and college at Duke. In the right organization, like the San Antonio Spurs who are legendary for their team concept or the Los Angeles Lakers where he could be a complementary piece to superstars, Jones would be valuable.

The University of Minnesota sent emails yesterday introducing the Gopher Pass for home football games. Priced at $28.56 per game, the all-mobile ticket allows “viewpoints” in TCF Bank Stadium for each of Minnesota’s seven home games. If a game is sold out, Gopher Pass purchasers will not have a seat in the stadium but will have access to a standing room only area. Four monthly payments of $49.99 are offered for what is being promoted as the “most flexible ticket ever” for Gophers football fans.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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