Molitor returns to Milwaukee roots
Twins manager played with Brewers for 15 years
MILWAUKEE -- Paul Molitor returned to Milwaukee on Friday night, still a winner in the standings and still suitably grateful for his experiences with the Brewers.
Molitor spent the first 15 years of his Hall of Fame career in Milwaukee. In his first season as manager of the Minnesota Twins, he has a team that was almost universally picked for fifth in the American League Central in second place.
"It's special because it was a large chapter of my life, not only in my professional life, but my life in general, a quarter of my life spent here in this community, if can do the math correctly," Molitor said of Milwaukee before his club dropped a 10-4 decision in the series opener at Miller Park. "The memories are fond; friendships, experiences, County Stadium, Mr. Selig, there are just a lot of things here that are special to me
The "Mr. Selig" is, of course, Bud, now Commissioner Emeritus, but owner of the Brewers during Molitor's time in Milwaukee. Friday, Selig gave Molitor a personal tour of the "Selig Experience," the multimedia historical journey of Selig's role in Major League Baseball in Milwaukee, located inside Miller Park.
"To be honest with you, it was way better than I could have ever expected," Molitor said. "Surprisingly, it was emotional for me. It touches a lot of things that had to do with my time here. Even bigger than that was, as I told Mr. Selig today, 'I hope I made clear how much you meant to me in my life,' and also my gratitude for his role in the game. It's an amazing story, and the one steady thing was Mr. Selig's desire to have professional baseball here in Milwaukee."
Part of the Experience is a replica of Selig's tiny, cluttered office in old County Stadium. "I just thought it was important to tell him that I remember all the times that I sat in that office that's replicated up there," Molitor said. "Many, many times I went up there, pushed some of the piles of paper aside a little bit and we'd have a nice conversation, and he'd try to get me back on the right path."
One of the pleasant oddities about the three-game series at Miller Park this weekend is that it matches Molitor and Brewers manager Craig Counsell. While Molitor was fashioning a Hall of Fame career, Counsell was a kid at the ballpark, son of a Brewers employee, spending as much time as possible at County Stadium. At one point, Counsell helped Molitor and Robin Yount with their fan mail.
"He's beaten me two out of three, that's what I know about him," Molitor said with a smile, referring to an earlier series in Minnesota. "I don't know what you'd call in comparison to a gym rat in basketball. But he was that. Maybe a 'diamond dog.' Craig had an unbelievable career, winning [two World Series as a player]. Now, we're meeting at one of those intersections of life."
"You remember him as a player," Counsell said of Molitor. "He was a great athlete. He was always intelligent, he was thoughtful. He was part of a dynamic group, he was 'The Ignitor' of the group, that's what he was. It was a great nickname. We don't have nicknames like that anymore.
"I've spent enough time with him off the field to say sure, he was one of the guys I looked up to. Molitor, [Robin] Yount, Jim Gantner, those were the guys. It's funny, growing up, this guy was your hero, your role model, and then you're competing against him. For me, it's one of the cool things I've been able to do so far."
Molitor was greeted with a sustained ovation by the Miller Park crowd before the start of Friday night's game. He is finding success in what was supposed to be a devilishly difficult division. Far from being an afterthought, the Twins, nearly three months into the season, appear to be a club genuinely contending for a postseason berth.
"It's been incredibly good," Molitor said of his first experience as a manager. "There's a learning curve day in and day out, trying to deal with people as best as you can, trying to do something positive and bring the most out of a collective group. It's been fun.
"I didn't really have a vision of how far we could go, I thought about what we could do. But you've got to play every day, and the guys have made it fun. I've been getting a tremendous effort from them. You kind of learn what you need to get better at. You think you know, but believe me, there are a lot of nuances about this game, now what did I read in there in Section 605-C about this particular play?' There's a way that you definitely can get better."
There has always been a way for Molitor to get better, no matter what he was doing in baseball, no matter where he was doing it.