When Tom Kelly tells a story, he tells it with a purpose.
The former Minnesota Twins manager who won both the 1987 and 1991 World Series is not simply reminiscing on "old times" or "how it used to be" and he certainly is not doing it to toot his own horn.
“If you surveyed the people that come through the gates each night,” he says, “and you ask them, ‘Who are you here to see?’ They want to see Mauer or Morneau or those guys pitching tonight.
“Even my wife’s not going to say she’s coming to see the manager.”
The purpose of his storytelling is to put baseball in perspective.
While he’s always quick to praise those who play the game, he has never been one to place his players on a pedestal or allow them to think they are above anyone else.
During spring training he used to pull his team together and point to the cars turning at a stoplight near the training facility, “You look off to the side and see the people at the light turning to go to work,” he says, “and you think about what you’re doing."
“It’s almost sinful.”
He pauses to reminisce.
“It’s quite a thing to be able to walk out there on that field,” he continues. “In fact, that’s a really special thing. You feel bad. And you tell the players, ‘Hey, see them cars?’”
He uses that question, the one about the cars, as a launching point for a story from his days in Double-A.
It was the 1982 season, his first and only season with the Twins' Double-A affiliate in Orlando, Fla. His team was in Charlotte, N.C. with a four-game lead in the Southern League, but they had lost the first two games and were in need of inspiration.
Kelly made a habit of walking early in the morning. The walks helped clear his head before a long day at the park.
On the third day he found an elixir for his team’s woes.
“I walk down the street, two-three blocks…downhill,” he says, “and I hear those loud noises and I look in the window and I’m standing.”
Originally seated, he immediately springs from his seat and pantomimes looking in a window.
“They’ve got fans going, the windows are all open and in Charlotte you get that heat.”
The scene inside is something he says he will never forget.
“Those people are sweating,” he says, “and they’re sewing and their hands are going.”
“And look what I’m doing. I’m just managing a team,” he continues. “I work, I work, but this”—he pauses to exhale.
Later that day he had an opportunity to share his findings with his team.
“The boys are loaded in the bus,” he says. “The bus driver pulls them down the street.
“I said, ‘Stop. Look.’”
Everyone in the bus stood up. He told everyone to look into the windows, “’Look!” he said, voice elevating. “See what’s going on!”
A large, wide smile formed on his once-somber visage.
“We kicked their asses the next two days!” he said laughing hysterically.
“We kicked their asses! Oh god! Oh god! We buried them after that!”
He was beaming.
“They got a look at that and said, ‘Wait a minute. We’re going to do something different here. Maybe we should try to elevate our game a touch.’”
Kelly’s anecdote reveals a simple recipe for success:
The game should always be about the players and they should always remember how lucky they are to play it.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.
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