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By Bob Elliott
DUNEDIN, Fla. _ He sat in the manager’s office behind the third base grandstand at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Tuesday morn.
You know who sat in that very chair, in this very office he was asked?
“Mr. Gaston,” said Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, whose next win as manager of the Minnesota Twins will be his first.
You know who else sat in that very chair?
“When I think of the Toronto Blue Jays I always think of Cito Gaston,” said Molitor, who played and lived in Toronto for three seasons beginning in 1993 — which is more than can be said for some management types with other Toronto pro teams.
Molitor spent three springs in the clubhouse his Twins occupied. After some searching and head scratching it was determined good ole No. 83 in your program, No. 1 in your heart — Tyler Grimes — who played at class-A Fort Myers last year, occupied the Hall of Famer’s old locker.
“When I was here we had one half field and the stadium, we spent a lot of time in here playing bridge while the other team hit,” Molitor said.
How was Olerud’s poker face?
“Same as when he played — whether it was a spring game or the World Series,” said Molitor. “Once in a while he’d say ‘oops, played the wrong suit.’”
Instead, players ask “what was your walk-up music?”
Answer: Anything by Bruce Spingsteen. That only began his last year with the Jays.
Molitor, who has the self-depreciation style down, told of working with infielder Pedro Florimon in the minors years ago and the Twins visiting Milwaukee. Florimon gazed around Miller Park saw the retired number “Paul Molitor 4” and pointed to coach Scott Ullger.
“Pedro made no connection whatsover,” said Molitor. “Once in a while a guy will say ‘Hey saw you on MLB Classic last night.’”
The afternoon affair against the Jays was the Twins seventh game of the spring. Field co-orindator Joe Vavra has been setting up each day’s work with input from Molitor. Former Jays minor league instructor Neil Allen has been monitoring pitchers.
In 21 years with the Brewers, Jays and Twins Molitor averaged 75 strikeouts a season with a high of 93 in 1982.
Coach Denis Menkehelped Molitor with his two-strike approach at class-A Burlington as a first-year pro in 1977.
“I tried to recognize a pitcher’s out pitch, if a guy had a power slider, I’d look for it, try to push it into right,” said Molitor. “I was able to figure out how to adjust.”
Last year as a Twins coach he approached Twins hitters with the percentages of breaking balls, fastballs and sliders in the dirt that were swings and misses.
“Two years ago we almost led in strikeouts,” said Molitor when the Twins had 1,430 whiffs, second to only the Houston Astros (1,535) in the American League.
“It’s one thing if you are getting power, with power guys I don’t care,” Molitor said, “but we have some base stealers and runners who struck out too often.”
Last year the Twins were fourth in the AL with 1,329 behind Houston (1,442), Chicago Sox (1,362) and the Boston Red Sox (1,337).
Molitor said he’ll try to carry on the tradition established by Tom Kelly and then Ron Gardenhire. Kelly to Gardenhire was as seamless as shortstop Zoilo Versalles to second baseman Jerry Kindall in 1965.
And then it was time for the Twins batting practice and infield practice causing scouts to scurry for a look at the Twins outfield and infield arms.
It’s been at least three years since we saw teams take infield in Florida … and it’s nonexistent once the season starts.
“We try to do it every day,” Molitor said, “but you can buy me out of it.”
Oh and Johnson was also fired while sitting in that same chair in 1999. The Jays dropped a night game in Tampa and Johnson arrived to find GM Gord Ash and assistant GM Tim McCleary waiting for him.
We wish Molitor a better fate.