Photo by SCOTT BUTHERUS // Buy this photo
FORT MYERS — The Baseball Gods are fickle deities. But every now and again they look down on a ballplayer with Perseus-like favor.
Miracle manager Doug Mientkiewicz is one of those who have lived a blessed life through baseball.
He had a 12-year Major League career. He won a Gold Glove. He even won a World Series ring.
Now he’s the manager for one of the hottest minor league teams. The Miracle started the season 12-0. They were 23-6 heading into Monday night’s game and have the best record in the Florida State League.
“I’ve been lucky, very lucky,” the 38-year-old said. “I’ve been in the right place at the right time a lot of times.”
He hit a game-winning home run for the 2000 USA Olympic team. He had a solid — albeit unspectacular — Major League career, playing for seven teams. He won a Gold Glove in 2001 as a first baseman with the Minnesota Twins. He won a World Series ring in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox.
Now he is a coach in the same organization that drafted him. He’s tasked with instilling the next generation of ballplayers with the same values and fundamentals that were taught to him and would become his benchmark during his playing career.
“It worked out really well. This is someplace I’ve always wanted to be. I’ve always considered myself a Twin,” said Mientkeiwicz, who has a home in Islamorada in the Upper Keys and is an avid sailfish angler in the sailfishing capitol of the world. “I love the way we do things in this organization, I think it is the right way to do it.”
Twins general manager Terry Ryan said hiring Mientkeiwicz, who worked as an instructor in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system in 2012, was a simple decision.
“We’re familiar with him. He’s familiar with us. He knows how we do things here so I think he’ll do fine,” Ryan said of the hire during spring training.
The fact that his first head coaching position comes so close to his family makes his situation all the more perfect for Mientkeiwicz.
The desire to be a part of his son Steel’s life the same way his own parents were for him, eventually led to his decision to hang up his spikes as a player after the 2009 season.
“Being three hours from home is huge. I have a seven-year-old boy who cries every time I have to leave so it was tough. Now I have a chance to see him at least every weekend for three days is huge. Last year I would go six, seven weeks without seeing him and it was tough,” Mientkiewicz said. “That was kind of the reason why, between a shoulder injury and just losing the ability to prepare as a player, and part of that was just wanting to be home, wanting to see my son grow up and wanting to be a hands-on dad. That was a big reason I didn’t have the same desire as before.”
Mientkiewicz remembers his father being there and helping with baseball even after a long day at work.
“My dad was always there for me. Both my mom and my dad were there for me and still are,” he said. “My dad used to work 10-12 hours in that Florida heat and I’d be sitting at home waiting with a bucket of balls to go hit and he’d never say no. That stuck with me a long time and still sticks with me to this day.”
The Twins drafted Meintkiewicz, a Miami native, out of Florida State University in the 5th round of the 1995 amateur draft.
He made his pro debut in Fort Myers. He joined a core of young players that included Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie. They moved to New Britain (AA) and then Salt Lake (AAA).
They all reached the big leagues together and kick started the franchise to three straight playoff appearances between 2002-2004. They were the model of building a franchise from within.
“The first group that I played with was the first group that they went young with in the big leagues. It worked for us. We started winning games, winning divisions and I think other places started to try and do the same things for a while,” Mientkiewicz said. “We did it right. We all started in A ball and kept our core players together at every level and by the time we got to the big leagues, we had won at every stop so the big leagues weren’t that much different.
“We played together for so long before we even got to the big leagues that we knew each other inside and out. “
For his career, Mientkiewicz batted .271 with 298 extra base hits and 405 RBIs that also included stints with the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers. More importantly than what he did with the bat, Mientkiewicz was known more for being a positive clubhouse presence and a willingness for doing the little things it takes to win.
“I didn’t have glaring talent but the best compliment I ever got was ‘that kid’s a grinder,’” he said.
That is something he wants to emphasize now that he has turned to coaching.
“Everything I did as a player, all the little things, won’t go unnoticed here and that is something we are trying to get across to the guys that are in the system now,” Mientkiewicz said. “It’s important to get those base hits, it is important to throw strikes, and it is important to drive in runs but on the same token it is the little things that other places might not be as noticeable are very important in this organization.”
So far his managerial debut has others taking notice as well. The Miracle are off to the best start in franchise history after beginning the season with a perfect 12-0 record. The 12 straight wins also set the franchise mark. Part of that success is due to the wealth of talent Mientkiewicz has at his disposal. Third baseman Miguel Sano and second baseman Eddie Rosario are two of the top prospects in the entire Twins system. The other part has been because Mientkiewicz has been able to get the most out of the rest of the roster like outfielder Jon Goncalves and catcher Matt Koch.
“I walked into a great situation with the organization, especially with the players that I have,” Mientkiewicz said. “For me to have this group that we have here, it is a blessing for my first go-round. I’m sure there are going to be bumps in the road but so far, so good.”
His players have responded as well.
“He’s very relaxed and low key but when he has to he’ll get on you and push you to what he thinks is necessary for us to win.” shortstop Steve Wickens said. “I like how he has high expectations for every one.”
Now all that is missing for Mientkiewicz is getting some time to rediscover the fishing spots on this side of the state.
“You got to have something that takes your mind off your job, especially in baseball,” he said. “You need something for when you get away from the park, so that you aren’t thinking about it 24 hours a day. Otherwise, it will bog you down and wear on you. For me it was fishing.”