You might think of it as taking a job on the Titantic.
Only with no loss of life on this voyage.
Just no future.
But Rick Anderson doesn’t see it that way. He’s optimistic. He has been assured that the Minnesota Twins will play baseball this season.
For Anderson, a 1975 graduate of Mariner High School, it would be a shame if they don’t play. After 13 years as an instructor in the Twins’ minor league system, he was to be named the major league club’s pitching coach today.
And, yes, the thought passed through his mind that he was finally getting his dream job and there might not be a ballclub to work for. But when Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan called last week, he told Anderson “we’re going to be playing next year.”
Whether that’s cast in concrete, I don’t know. I’ve heard baseball commissioner Bud Selig tell the Twins and the Montreal Expos – the clubs that he would like to eliminate (he uses the word “contraction,” but I hate that term) – to keep their options open. But with schedules already released and spring training less than six weeks away, it seems less and less likely that any “subtraction” will take place this year.
“We’re counting on it (there being a season),” said Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor league operations. “We’re staying optimistic. Every day closer to spring training is a plus for us.”
Needless to say, Rick Anderson is excited about his promotion. “I guess I paid my dues,” he said last week from his home in Salt Lake City.
Did he ever.
He started out as an instructor with the Twins’ rookie league club in 1989, less than a year after retiring as a player, and worked his way up through the organization until reaching Class AAA in 1995. There he remained for the next six years, quite content with his lot in life.
“To be honest, I never pursued anything else,” the 45-year-old Anderson said. “The Twins is a great organization, regardless of what you read in the papers.”
For four of the last five years, he worked in the same city where he resided, Salt Lake (the Twins moved their Class AAA team to Edmondton, Alberta, last year). During the winter, he hires out as a private pitching instructor, giving about 30 lessons a week to kids ranging from 11 to 18.
Rantz, of course, has seen Anderson’s work in the minors. “He’s been with clubs and pitchers who have done very well,” Rantz said. “This (opportunity) is richly deserved. He’s a hard-working guy who communicates well with pitchers. He’s a good teacher. He has the respect of the players.”
Anderson has a strong staff to work with. Joe Mays, a former Everett AquaSox pitcher, was 17-13 last year; Eric Milton was 15-7 and Brad Radke 15-11. Reliever LaTroy Hawkins had 28 saves.
“The neat thing is most of our pitchers are home grown, they came up through our system,” said Anderson, who has worked with many of them somewhere along the line. “They’re starting to believe they can win.”
The Twins made a solid showing last season, finishing second in the American League Central Division, six games behind Cleveland. An era ended when long-time manager Tom Kelly, who directed the Twins to World Series championships in 1987 and ‘91, resigned.
The new manager is Ron Gardenhire, promoted from third base coach. Twenty years ago, the new manager and the new pitching coach were teammates – as well as roommates – in the New York Mets minor league system. In fact, it was Gardenhire, who had just begun managing in the Minnesota organization, who recommended that the Twins hire Anderson as a pitching coach in 1989.
“Towards the end of my career, a couple of coaches told me, ‘You’d make a pretty good coach,’ ” Anderson said. “When you’ve got to struggle and fight to stay in the game, you study it a little bit more.”
Anderson didn’t get to the major leagues until he was 29.
It was early June of 1986 when Anderson got the call. The Mets had an injury to their fifth starter and needed someone to come up and pitch one game. “The day my son was born, I was in the hospital when they called,” Anderson recalled. “He was born on the seventh and I pitched on the ninth.”
He pitched very well, leaving after seven innings with a 2-1 lead. Then it was right back to the minors.
Anderson would get recalled and finish with a 2-1 record and a 2.72 earned run average in 15 games. That was the year the Mets won the World Series, but Anderson wasn’t on the postseason roster.
In March of 1987, Anderson was part of a five-player trade that sent him to Kansas City and brought David Cone to the Mets. Cone would go on to have a fine career with New York while Anderson’s would end a year later.
His record for three years in the majors: 4-4 with a 4.75 ERA and one save.
His brightest moment: “My first start.”
His career may have been brief, but at least he made the “show.”
Not many can make that claim.
Someday, there may be another Anderson in the majors. The son who was born two days before his dad’s major league debut, Ricky, is now 15 and playing high school ball.
And with a dad who has again made the majors – providing Bud Selig doesn’t get his wish.