MINNEAPOLIS -- Rocco Baldelli was a hot-shot prospect when Charlie Montoyo, then the manager of the Class-A Advanced Bakersfield Blaze, first met him in 2002.
The two developed a long-lasting relationship from there. It’s one that has strengthened with time as they both joined the Tampa Bay Rays’ coaching staff for the 2015 season and then were announced as managers of their respective clubs — the Twins and Blue Jays — on Oct. 25, 2018.
Montoyo, 53, and the Blue Jays were in town Monday for a four-game series at Target Field. Montoyo said before the game he hoped Baldelli lost the next four games but won the next 10 after that.
“He’s like my son but then he’s like my brother,” Montoyo said. “We fight and then we make fun of each other. Yeah, he’s one of my best friends in baseball for sure.”
Baldelli, 37, has drawn upon Montoyo’s experience for years. He said it was fun going through similar things at the same time both as first-year managers. They talk about much more than just baseball, venturing into their home lives, politics and everything in between.
As a manager, Baldelli praised his friend’s work ethic and his ability to never waver from his beliefs.
“He just continues to go out there and does what he thinks is right every day,” Baldelli said. “And getting a chance to watch him do that for years on end, it’s both impressive and I’d like to do that when I grow up.”
Montoyo, likewise, was impressed by his former player. Last year, Montoyo was the Rays’ bench coach and Baldelli had moved from first-base coach to major league field coordinator. The two would chat about things before bringing ideas to manager Kevin Cash.
“He impressed me (with) how much knowledge he has and how he can see things coming for never managing anywhere,” Montoyo said.
Much has been made of the pranks pulled by the Rays’ coaching staff, headed by Kevin Cash. Baldelli, before Monday’s game, said they didn’t have anything crazy planned — yet.
“It’s a four-game (series). We could possibly see some stuff,” he said. “I actually don’t have anything 100 percent locked in at the moment, so I can’t give any hints.”
Twins celebrate 42
The Twins, along with the rest of Major League Baseball, honored Jackie Robinson on Monday, wearing the No. 42 on their backs. Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947, 72 years ago.
“I think everyone here knows how important this day is. But Jackie’s a person and a symbol for everyone here throughout the year,” Baldelli said. “Someone who changed the course of the lives for many, many people. It’s very, very meaningful and it gives you a good feeling to throw this shirt on … wear it outside and let everyone know how much it matters.”
The Twins held a pregame ceremony honoring kids who embodied the nine values Robinson lived by. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, the first African-American to hold the position, threw out the first pitch before the game and baseball teams from Henry and North high schools in Minneapolis stood on the field with players.
“That’s the guy that paved the way for me to be able to put that on so like I said, I don’t take each and every day lightly,” Twins center fielder Byron Buxton said. “I come out here and try to play 150 percent and just be me. Wearing that 42 is going to mean a lot.”
Garver bats leadoff
Baldelli had Mitch Garver lead off a couple of times this spring, but the catcher mostly thought that was to get him extra at-bats early in the game and get out by the fifth or sixth inning.
Baldelli had different ideas, texting Garver on Sunday night to tell him he’d be leading off Monday against the Blue Jays.
“I think the idea of a leadoff hitter has been so set in stone in this game. It’s a guy who can put the ball on the ground and run the bases and is fast, right? But the lineup that we have, we have nine guys that can drive the ball all around the yard and over the fence. Really, you can put anybody in the leadoff spot and we’d probably be just fine.”
Garver is off to a hot start this season, entering Monday hitting .500 with three home runs in his first seven games. Monday marked the first time the Twins had a leadoff hitter other than Max Kepler, who had the day off. Baldelli suggested Garver atop the lineup could be something they see more.
“He is kind of a patient guy. He’s a guy who has a pretty good approach up there and a good idea of what he’s doing. He’s also swinging the bat really well for us right now,” Baldelli said. “I think he’s comfortable doing it, too, which I think matters as well. I think he was a good fit.”