MINNEAPOLIS – Though Rocco Baldelli’s time as a player was cut short by physical ailments, his career in baseball was only beginning to take off.
The mind and the heart can be powerful forces.
Seeking a fresh voice for their underachieving young players, the Minnesota Twins made the 37-year-old Baldelli the youngest manager in the major leagues on Thursday by hiring a sought-after candidate who interviewed for vacancies with four other teams.
The former Tampa Bay Rays player, assistant and coach will be a first-time manager, the first in the major leagues born in the 1980s. He replaces Paul Molitor, who was fired after four seasons with a 305-343 record .
“I like to have fun. I like for the players to love showing up to that environment, to that clubhouse,” Baldelli said, adding: “I feel like when guys are relaxed and having fun out on the field, they play their best.”
Baldelli spent the last four years on the staff of Rays manager Kevin Cash, the first three as first base coach. His role for 2018 was a newly created position called major league field coordinator, helping Cash and bench coach Charlie Montoyo with in-game strategy, working with the outfielders and focusing on the continued development of the team’s young players.
Baldelli’s most recent experience fit perfectly with what Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine sought. They were effusive with their praise of Molitor for his acumen, character and flexibility, but the closest Falvey and Levine came to articulating a specific reason for Molitor’s dismissal when they announced it a little more than three weeks ago was a desire for deeper connections with millennial players in hopes of more productivity on the field.
“He connects exceptionally well to people. His humility, his open-mindedness, but also there’s a strong sense of opinion there. He has a lot of ideas as how to help players,” said Falvey, who is just 35.
Joined at a news conference at Target Field by his parents, two brothers, longtime girlfriend and a close childhood friend, Baldelli won over Falvey, Levine and the dozens of others who met him in the organization with his honesty and affability.
“He’s going to meet one-on-one with guys and find opportunities to enhance whoever they are as a player. I think that’s what today’s manager needs to do,” Falvey said. “They need to connect to each player on an individual level.”
Blue Jays bring in Montoyo
Montoyo was hired as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday. He succeeds John Gibbons, who was let go after the team finished 73-89.
The Blue Jays will officially introduce Montoyo during a news conference Monday at Rogers Centre. He has a three-year contract with a club option for 2022.
“I am extremely honored and humbled to join the Toronto Blue Jays organization,” Montoyo said in a statement. “Managing a team that represents an entire nation is incredibly special.
“My family and I look forward to working toward the ultimate goal of winning a championship for this city. I also want to recognize the entire Tampa Bay Rays organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career.”
The 53-year-old Montoyo, from Puerto Rico, managed the Triple-A Durham Bulls from 2007-14 and spent three seasons as Tampa Bay’s third base coach before becoming bench coach this year.
“We are thrilled to announce Charlie as the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays,” general manager Ross Atkins said in a statement. “Charlie is a highly regarded leader by so many individuals in the game and we were thoroughly impressed by his experiences and approach as we learned more about him during the interview process.”
Montoyo becomes the 13th manager in Blue Jays history. He will be responsible for the development of top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is expected to join the Blue Jays in April.