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Trading places


By Gordy Jones


You might have noticed that Scott Ullger is no longer coaching third base for the Twins. That’s former bench coach Steve Liddle who’s now waving the boys home – and Ullger is now the bench coach for the Twins.

The reason for the switch: Scott Ullger’s career goal is to become a manager in the major leagues. After missing out on several opportunities last year, he learned that with all of his experience, even some minor league managing experience, teams rarely hire a third-base coach to manage in the majors. Being a bench coach for Gardy will give him more hands-on experience, and a better chance to get a job as a major-league manager within a few years.

The Twins are being very accommodating to Scott. He was drafted by the Twins in 1977 and spent six years in the minors and 35 days in the majors. He then turned to coaching. He learned his craft with various clubs, but was hired by Gardy in 1995 and has worked hard and been loyal since. However, I don’t think he’s the candidate to replace Ron Gardenhire whenever Ron calls it quits (maybe in four or five years).

None of this is official; none of it comes from any source. This is only my gut feeling, from the observations I’ve made hanging around the Twins organization.

I think the Twins would love to see Ullger succeed somewhere, but I believe Joe Mauer’s brother, Jake, who is a brilliant minor league manager, will take over when Gardy decides he’s had enough. I have talked to Jake about my hunch several times, and although he has never confirmed it, he admitted it would be really cool working, traveling and coaching brother Joe. He said that he has a long way to go before anything like that could ever happen — but I can’t help but notice that while Jake is managing in spring, there’s often Twins brass observing him — whether it be Bill Smith, Terry Ryan, Tom Kelly, Jim Rantz, or Paul Molitor. I’ve even seen Gardy poking his head in.


Back to Third

I talked to Steve Liddle and asked for his thoughts about his new position as third-base coach, but the big, easygoing guy from Nashville just smiled, shrugged and didn’t say too much. Then he insinuated that he is just happy to be part of this staff. As he was walking to his coaching box, I asked him if he liked coaching third. He replied, “I like it, as long as I don’t get hit by the ball.” At that, an errant ball whizzed by him and he skipped out of the way grinning.


They Come and Go

It’s odd seeing former Twins in different uniforms. At spring training, I saw Brendan Harris wearing an Oriole uniform as he unsuccessfully fought for a spot on their major league roster. I also saw former Twins utility player Denny Hocking in a Baltimore uniform – as a member of their minor league coaching staff, but coaching in the majors for the day.

That’s what they do in spring training – give guys, even coaches, a taste of the big show. Twins first-base coach Jerry White shouted over to Hocking, “You should be pretty good at being a bench coach. You did nothing but sit on the Twins’ bench for 10 years!” They both had a good chuckle over that.

Also clad in a Baltimore uniform, you can now find our former shortstop, J.J. Hardy. Wearing a San Diego Padres uniform, you’ll find former Twins Pat Neshek, Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.

I really thought it was strange the other night when I saw Matty Guerrier on TV, wearing a Dodger uniform.

Players come and go, but after they put on a TC hat, it’s strange to see them in another. Sometimes, of course, they do come home. For example, Tom Brunansky, who was a Twin, and very popular with the fans and his teammates from 1982-88, and was part of the 1987 World Championship team along with Kirby and Hrbek, left Minnesota in 1989 to play with four other teams before finishing his career after the 1994 season.

Last year, he came home! The Twins hired “Bruno” to be the hitting coach for the Twins’ Gulf Coast Rookie League team, and this year he has been promoted to the Class AA New Britain Rock Cats. It probably won’t be long until Tom’s up in Minneapolis, coaching with the “big boys”!


Pinch Hitters for Harmon

I was saddened when I read that Harmon Killebrew wouldn’t be here to throw out the first pitch at the Twins’ home opener, because of his chemo schedule. Harmon is gallantly battling cancer of the esophagus. Although his trip to Fort Myers was good medicine for him, it also had to have taken a lot of energy, as does the chemotherapy.

His former teammate and pal, Tony Oliva, filled in for him, throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Harm’s grandson, Casey. Harmon’s sons, Cam and Kenny, were also on hand, officially opening gate No. 3 for the season; the gate was named for the No. 3 that Harmon wore on his Twins uniform.


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