By David Dorsey
Special to FOXSportsNorth.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. Two men who have had a history with the Minnesota Twins, but never together, have been united this season for a common cause.
Tom Brunansky, 52, played outfield for the Twins from 1982-88, helping Minnesota to the 1987 World Series title. Just three years removed from being the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast rookie league Twins, Brunansky has been hired as Minnesota's hitting coach.
Terry Steinbach, who will turns 51 on March 2, graduated from New Ulm (Minn.) High School before playing for the Oakland A's from 1986-96. Steinbach then capped his playing career as a catcher for the Twins from 1997-99. He has returned to the franchise, this time as the bench coach and catching coordinator.
Following back-to-back losing seasons in which the Twins finished with a combined 129-195 record, general manager Terry Ryan, entering the second year of his second stint in that role, decided the time had arrived for a coaching staff makeover around manager Ron Gardenhire.
"We were looking for a guy with knowledge, we were looking for a guy with personality and we were looking for a guy with energy," Ryan said of Brunansky. "I think the players like him. He's approachable. He's a relentless worker."
Both newcomers to the staff had reached similar points in their lives at home.
Brunansky, father of five, got bit by the coaching bug when assisting as a coach for his sons at Poway (Calif.) High School from 2005-10.
"That had a lot to do with me not looking for employment," Brunansky said of wanting to be present for his children. "I got back into baseball at the high school level reluctantly. If it weren't for a good friend of mine who got me to come out, I wouldn't be here today. Dan Johnson played for the Reds and Oakland and the Yankees. His sons were part of our coaching staff in high school. They prodded me to come on board. If it weren't for those guys, the desire would not have set in.
"I realized how much love for it I have and how much I wanted to give back. If it weren't for that experience, I wouldn't be sitting here now. I feel a sense of enjoyment. I think in my mind, I'm not to the point of being back, but I'm to the point of being able to give back. I think I have the mindset for these guys, to know that we are on the same page. When they struggle, I've been there, too. It's a daily grind, and it's something where I want to give back to these guys."
With all but two of his children now graduated from high school, Brunansky said the time was right for him to get back into coaching.
"If they had played well and they had done well, then they probably wouldn't have made a change," Brunansky said of the Twins. "I don't think it was so much me as the timing."
All three of Steinbach's children have graduated from high school. So when the Twins did not retain Steve Liddle, Steinbach jumped at the job opening. Ryan said Steinbach seemed like a good fit because Ryan wanted someone with a catching background on the staff.
"My wife and I always said that if an opportunity ever came, we'd be interested in it," said Steinbach, who had been a part-time catching instructor during previous spring trainings. "And it happened. It's kind of a gamble. A lot of times after a player gets out of the game for a number of years, it's hard to get back into it. The Twins offered me the job, and I decided to get back into it."
Bobby Cuellar, who is bilingual in Spanish, replaced Rick Stelmaszek as the bullpen coach after serving the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in that role during the previous four seasons. The flurry of moves means Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson, entering their 12th consecutive seasons in those roles, are the lone holdovers in their same jobs from the staff that succeeded Tom Kelly's.
"Communication is all that matters," Gardenhire said. "Everybody knows what we're doing, what we like, what we don't like. I've known these guys for a long time."
Joe Vavra and Scott Ullger remain on the coaching staff but in different roles. Vavra, previously the hitting coach since 2006, is the third base coach and infield coordinator.
"I understood the moves being made and why," Vavra said. "My background was as an infield instructor before I was a hitting instructor, so it was natural for me to go back. I like the situation because I like Tom Brunansky. I like what he has to offer. I love his enthusiasm and what he brings."
Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who won the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player Award with Vavra as his hitting coach, said he looks forward to working with Brunansky. He also likes having Vavra still on the staff for additional input.
"I had a lot of success with Joe," Morneau said. "I enjoyed working with him. It's going to be a change. Sometimes change is good. I can't already tell how it's going to be, but Bruno has been around. He has had success as a major league hitter. I look forward to working with him and seeing his philosophies."
Vavra said his biggest adjustment would be standing on the field again during games.
"I haven't had a ball hit at me in seven years," Vavra said. "When I get out there, I hope I flinch. There's no net. But once you get out there, it just comes back to you."
Ullger moves to first base coach and outfield instructor. He was the hitting coach from 1998-2005 and the bench coach in 2011-12.
"We're all in this together," Ullger said. "We have one goal in mind. We're all contributing to the same goal, and that's the way it should be."
In Ullger and Vavra, the Twins have two coaches on staff with backgrounds as hitting coaches.
Gardenhire said that could come in handy, but that Brunansky would be the primary voice on the craft of hitting.
"I think we're all in this together as a staff," Gardenhire said. "Bruno's the hitting guy. Obviously, what he wants will get done. But Joe's been one. Scotty Ullger's been one. We all have to work together here. I don't think there's going to be any stepping on people's toes. Everything will go through Bruno.
Obviously, he's the hitting guy. But when Bruno's tied up with one guy, Joe can help out. Everybody can step in and help out. I think we're all going to work together pretty good."