On the day before his 12th season as manager of the Minnesota Twins ended, Ron Gardenhire woke up and came to the ballpark not knowing if he would be back for a 13th year.
The Twins were finishing up a third straight dreadful season, limping toward a second straight 66-96 record, and Gardenhire was in the final year of his contract. Minnesota is home for Gardenhire, and the possibility of uprooting and taking his family to another town, to take an offer from another team that surely would have come, was wearing him out.
After a 5-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians for defeat No. 95, GM Terry Ryan finally let Gardenhire know of his plans.
"He walked in and said, `Get some sleep tonight, I'm going to give you a two-year deal,'" Gardenhire said Friday. "That's when I knew that I was going to be back. All up to that point ... (Ryan said) `Haven't made a decision yet. I'm still thinking about it.'
"I told him, `You've got to do what you've got to do.'"
The Twins continued their reputation for loyalty, giving Gardenhire a two-year deal to try and shepherd the franchise out of the misery that has hung over it for the last three seasons.
"There was a lot of pressure on a lot of people," Gardenhire said, alluding to his assistant coaches and their families, several of whom have been with him for years. "My family, too, same thing. We love it here. We wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I know I probably had opportunities to go somewhere else, but this is the place to be."
Now he wants to make it the place it was earlier in his managerial tenure. In his first nine seasons, Gardenhire went 803-656 (.550) with six AL Central titles. But the last three seasons the Twins have gone 195-291 (.401) with two last-place finishes. The decision to bring Gardenhire back shifted the focus to the players Ryan was providing him. Ever the straight shooter, Ryan thrust more of the responsibility on himself than the manager.
"I have to give him a better team to work with," Ryan said recently.
Even the players seem to agree with Ryan.
"I was in his ear a lot, late August into September," closer Glen Perkins said. "I went in there one day and heard somewhere they were trying to figure out a one or two-year type of thing. I just went in and told him if it ends up being one year, we want you here. And believe in us because we're going to go get some guys and we're going to be better. And if you have to take a one-year, take a one-year because we want you here. We don't want someone else."
The encouragement from his players emboldened Gardenhire, and Ryan made good on his pledge to upgrade the roster his manager had at his disposal. In a rare offseason of big spending, Ryan shelled out $73 million to bring in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to upgrade the team's league-worst starting rotation. When Joe Mauer moved to first base, Ryan brought in veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, and the team is hopeful star prospects Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Byron Buxton will all be coming in to make an impact in the next two years.
"They made a statement: `We don't want to see this again. We don't want to go through this again this summer,'" Gardenhire said.
Perkins has been with the organization since 2004 and is looking forward to seeing what his manager can do with a more balanced roster.
"We just didn't have as much talent as we had five, six, seven years ago," Perkins said. "That's how you lose games. As much as it wasn't his fault, when you're that good, (managers) don't have as big an impact either. The coaching staff and the manager fit somewhere in the middle. You're never as good as your team and you're never as bad as your team. You've got talent or you don't."