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Twins could teach us


I covered the Bills for nearly five years and never had a one-on-one interview with General Manager Tom Donahoe or former GM John Butler. I recall just one time when Donahoe approached me. During training camp, he walked over to tell me to move so Rob Johnson could see the play clock.

The other day I was at Frontier Field covering the Red Wings, and I interviewed Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan for nearly 30 minutes. The chance of the Bills allowing a local reporter an exclusive interview with their general manager is like... well... you have a better chance of winning Mega Millions while being struck by lightning.

What a difference between the Bills and the Twins. In the world of PR, the Bills come off as divas when compared to the small-town hominess of the Twins.

That's probably because of Ryan, The Sporting News' 2002 executive of the year and Baseball America's 2004 executive of the year. He certainly has reasons to be divaesque --- probably more than Donahoe, who has never been NFL executive of the year. But Ryan is just a charming, modest, honest, comfortable, and likable person.

The Twins aren't loaded, yet they've won the AL Central the last three years. They're fiscally responsible, sensible, efficient, cooperative, and competitive. They should run our state.

It's invigorating that the Twins actually call people up from Rochester and use them. Now players develop here again and become everyday contributors for the Twins, including last year's occasional City player columnist Jason Bartlett. Bartlett was batting .250 and he committed only one error --- much better than last year's short stint in Minnesota.

It's invigorating that players enjoy playing in Rochester, such as infielder Brent Abernathy, a 27-year-old native of Atlanta, Georgia, who's played in 208 major league games through three seasons with the Devil Rays and Royals. Abernathy, the Wings' top hitter, aches to get back to the majors.

"There isn't anything that compares to playing in the big leagues," he says, "but to be playing here in a city that appreciates baseball and has a history with baseball definitely helps."

Ryan calls the Red Wings a great affiliate. He even makes an effort to ask Red Wings management for their insights into players. The Orioles made no such effort, and practically made no effort whatsoever during the last 10 years of the affiliation.

Ryan spends time here. This month he was to be in Rochester twice. When the Twins are away, he's usually scouting his minor-league players. He says not all general managers operate that way, pointing out that Atlanta's Jon Schuerholz is one of baseball's most winning GMs, despite rarely visiting his farm clubs.

Ryan thinks the Wings should be good because of their starting pitching, but he's surprised that the bullpen has struggled. Also, the Wings are without 64-year-old manager Phil Roof, who's home with his ailing wife in Paducah, Kentucky. Ryan gave Roof an indefinite leave of absence and put hitting coach Rich Miller and pitching coach Bobby Cuellar in charge until Roof returns. It's not certain that Roof will, but Minnesota is handling the situation respectfully.

It has been remarkable that the Twins organization stays competitive with a payroll that is usually among the bottom-third; that Ryan somehow manages to MacGyver these successful teams. I suggest to him that even if he had endless reserves to purchase expensive free agents he might not enjoy it. It wouldn't be as challenging.

But he disagrees. He'd love the extra cash.

"That wouldn't be bad," he says.

But that might lead to problems in the clubhouse, right?

"What problems would that bring?"

Chemistry problems.

"You don't see chemistry problems in the Yankees' clubhouse. If you win, chemistry goes right out the window. Chemistry, for me, [is overrated]. Hell, if you win games and put wins up on the left side of the ledger, you're probably going to have chemistry."

My premise is shot. Ryan prefers not to be MacGyver. He wouldn't mind being the humongous cash cow, like the Yankees or the Bills and Tom Donahoe.

Well, Ryan's still a nice guy.