The role of a Triple-A manager is a difficult one. The revolving door of players coming through the clubhouse makes one wish they wore “Hello My Name Is” stickers upon arriving for each game. While the players give their all each game, their mind often wanders to the larger prize one step above. It’s a juggling act of getting players ready for the Major Leagues while at the same time trying to win the game you’re managing. Over the first two seasons as the St. Paul Saints manager, Toby Gardenhire has navigated that path exceptionally well. Gardenhire, the only manager the Saints have known since becoming the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate, will return for his third season at the helm of the Saints. He will be joined by two returning coaches: pitching coach Cibney Bello and Defensive Coach Tyler Smarslok, both entering their third seasons with the Saints. Joining the coaching staff are Pitching Coach Peter Larson from Double-A Wichita, and Hitting Coach Nate Spears, who spent the last six seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization. Rounding out the staff are Strength & Condition Coach Cody Drouin, who returns for his second season, lead Certified Athletic Trainer Ben Myers (second season), Assistant Certified Athletic Trainer Taylor Carpenter (first season), AAA Clubhouse Manager/Assistant, Baseball Operations Matt Tramp (third season), and Coordinator’s, Baseball Technology Luke Ficek and Alek Hughes, both returning for their second seasons.

The 40-year-old Gardenhire has produced a winning record over his first two seasons as Saints manager, going 141-138. He earned his 100th victory as manager of the Saints on June 10, 2022. Last season, the Saints produced their longest winning streak in franchise history, rolling off eight straight from June 5-14 and closed the season on a five-game winning streak that vaulted the team into a tie for fourth place. He did all of this, while navigating through 89 different players. They were the fourth most prolific home run hitting team in the league, with 194.
In 2021 the Saints finished just 7.0 games out of the top spot in the Midwest Division and finished in the top third of Triple-A East with a .515 winning percentage. From June 26-August 21, when the Saints took over first place in the division, they were a league tying best 33-17. Following the first six weeks of the season, the Saints were the best hitting team in Triple-A East, hitting .265, with the second most home runs during that span, 121.

Gardenhire, who was scheduled to be the manager in Rochester in 2020 before the pandemic eliminated the season, spent two seasons as a manager in the Twins system in 2018 and 2019. He guided the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels to a playoff berth in 2018 after winning the second half Western Division title. Overall, the Kernels went 77-62, fourth best record in the 16-team league. The Kernels swept their quarterfinal series, 2-0, over the Beloit Snappers (Oakland Athletics) before losing 2-0 to the Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals) in the semifinals.

The following year, Gardenhire was promoted to High-A Fort Myers where he was named the Florida State League Manager of the Year and once again earned a playoff berth. The Miracle won the first half title and finished 74-59, third best record in the 12-team Florida State League. The league, however, cancelled their playoffs due to Hurricane Dorian.

This is Gardenhire’s eighth season as a coach or manager in the Twins organization. He assisted the GCL Twins in 2016, began the 2017 season as the third base coach for the Red Wings before finishing the year as the hitting coach for the GCL Twins.

Gardenhire began his coaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Stout where he amassed an 81-117 record in five seasons (2012-16) and helped guide the Blue Devils to a 2014 WIAC tournament berth, their first in seven years.

Gardenhire has spent his entire professional career with the Twins organization. In addition to six seasons as a coach or manager, he played seven seasons in their Minor League system. He was originally drafted by the Twins in the 38th round in 2002 out of the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, but did not sign. In 2005, he was selected in the 41st round by the Twins out of the University of Illinois. Gardenhire played at every level from the Rookie Appalachian League up through Triple-A. In 533 games he slashed .232/.292/.274 with 156 runs scored, 44 doubles, three triples, and six home runs.

The 40-year-old Bello returns for his third season as the Pitching Coach for the Saints. His staff finished tied for eighth in the International League in strikeouts in 2022 with 1332, nearly nine a game. As the season went along, the pitching staff got stronger finishing the final month of the season with the fourth best opponents’ batting average (.227) among the 30 Triple-A teams, eighth best WHIP (1.31), and ninth best ERA (4.20)

The 2023 season is Bello’s eighth as a coach in the Twins system. He’s been the pitching coach in the organization with the Rookie GCL Twins (2016-17), Single-A Cedar Rapids (2018), and Double-A Pensacola (2019). In 2019, Bello was moved up to the Major Leagues, spending the final month of the season with the Twins. His coaching career began in 2011 when he was a pitching coach intern for the Rookie AZL Mariners, working under former Major League pitcher Gary Wheelock. He impressed during his internship and became the pitching coach for the AZL Mariners from 2012-13 and then moved up to the Single-A Clinton LumberKings from 2014-15. The Mariners were familiar with Bello signing him as a non-drafted free agent in 2000 out of Venezuela.

He pitched eight years for the Mariners organization, pitching in Venezuela from 2000-02 before pitching with the AZL Mariners in 2003. He reached High-A in both 2006 and 2007, his final season with the Mariners. Bello pitched in the Independent Can-Am and Golden Baseball Leagues from 2008-10.

The 36-year-old Larson helped guide the Twins Double-A franchise, the Wichita Wind Surge, to one of the top pitching staffs in Double-A last season. His staff finished with the fewest home runs allowed in Double-A (127), sixth in ERA (4.13), and ninth in strikeouts (1311).

The 2023 season is Larson’s fifth year in the Twins organization and first at the Triple-A level. Prior to spending 2022 with Wichita, Larson spent 2021 as pitching coach for Low-A Fort Myers and 2019 as minor league rehab pitching coach. He was slated to be the pitching coach for Low-A Cedar Rapids in 2020, before the cancellation of the minor league season. Prior to joining the Twins, he spent four seasons with Fordham University (2018), University at Albany (2017), Siena College (2016) and King University in Bristol, TN (2015). Larson also spent 2015 as pitching coach for the Madison Mallards in the Northwoods League. His 2018 Fordham pitching staff set a school record with 536 strikeouts in 495.0 innings and posted a 3.36 team ERA.

Larson graduated from Ferrum (VA) College in 2009, where he helped the Panthers to USA South conference titles in 2005 and 2007. He played a year of professional ball, pitching in the independent Can-Am League in 2011.

The 37-year-old Spears spent last season with the Greenville Drive in the High-A South Atlantic League, his second consecutive season in that role. He helped guide his offense to the top of the league in home runs (165), third in slugging percentage (.415), fourth in walks (534), and fifth in OPS (.745).

Spears began his coaching career in 2016 as a coaching assistant with Greenville. Following that season, he was named the Hitting Coach for the Red Sox Low-A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners, a position he held until 2021.

Spears played 12 seasons as an infielder from 2003-14, including 2010-12 in the Red Sox organization. He also played in the Orioles, Cubs, Indians, and Phillies systems, but his lone MLB appearances came with the Sox from 2011-12. After a 2011 conversation with Terry Francona about becoming a utility player, Spears finished his career playing all infield positions.

Smarslok, 30, was much more than a defensive coach in 2022, his second with the Saints. While he succeeded at that position, Smarslok also filled in as manager when Gardenhire stepped away from the team while he and his wife Sarah had their first child. Smarslok helped guide the Saints to a winning record, including a six-game sweep of the best team in the International League, at the time, the Rochester Red Wings.

Smarslok spent each year since he graduated from Kean University, in 2015, as a collegiate coach. He served as an assistant coach for Marist, Seton Hall University, Heidelberg University, and Claremont-Mudd Scripps. He operated as the volunteer assistant at Seton Hall in 2019 where he was the infield coach, responsible for the players’ development and in-game alignment. Smarslok was a three-time DIII College World Series participant, an All-Conference, and National Rawlings Gold Glove recipient in his time at Kean University. He helped lead the Cougars to two NJAC Tournament Championships.

The 32-year-old Myers begins his fifth season in the Twins organization and second with the Saints. He began his time in 2018 as the Athletic Trainer at Low-A Cedar Rapids. From there he moved to High-A Fort Myers in 2019. His responsibilities shifted in 2020 due to the pandemic. He was sent to Target Field handling Covid cases and his experience doing that put him in the role of Infectious Control Prevention Coordinator in 2021 through the All-Star break. Following that, he became a roving Athletic Trainer, working with all the Twins affiliates.

Myers began his college career at the University of Kentucky for two semesters. He then transferred to Eastern Kentucky University from 2009-13 and got his degree in Athletic Training, becoming certified in 2013. Myers did an internship with the GCL Astros in 2012. He earned his master’s at the University of South Carolina in Athletic Training and worked with the University of South Carolina Softball team from 2013-14. After working at a local high school in 2015, Myers was hired by the Astros and worked for their GCL team from 2015-16 and with the Rookie level Greenville Astros in 2017.

The 26-year-old Carpenter is in her second season in the Twins organization and first with the Saints. She was the Assistant Athletic Trainer with the Wind Surge in 2022. Prior to her time with the Twins, Carpenter spent three years at Florida Gulf Coast University as a Resident Athletic Trainer and Graduate Assistant working with Men’s Soccer and Women’s Swimming and Diving.

Prior to FGCU, Carpenter completed her athletic training internship at nearby Ave Maria University. During her time at Ave Maria, she served as the athletic trainer for women’s volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s basketball, and women’s lacrosse. Carpenter completed her clinical experience at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, registering over 1,500 hours from November 2017 to March 2018.

Carpenter graduated from Wisconsin Oshkosh in May of 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in athletic training.

This is the second year in professional baseball, both with the Saints, for Drouin who spent the previous three years as the Assistant Director of Sports Performance at Eastern Kentucky University. While there, he implemented, designed, and led all aspects of in-season and offseason sports performance for baseball, softball, women’s soccer, and women’s golf. He began with EKU in April, 2019 and spent six months as the Assistant Football Sports Performance Coach.

Drouin served as a military police officer in the United States Army from 2010-17, where he achieved the rank of Sergeant. He was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2011-13 and served as a driver, gunner, and team leader. He earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Central Michigan in December of 2018. Drouin was a Strength and Conditioning intern at Central Michigan (2017-18), Florida Atlantic (2018), and Louisiana State University (2019). He earned his Master of Science in MS, Sport and Fitness Administration/Management in 2021 from LSU. Drouin has a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Certification and is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), as well as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach (RSCC).

The 33-year-old Tramp begins his third season as the Saints Clubhouse Manager. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota native began his clubhouse duties with the American Association’s Sioux Falls Canaries, the same league the Saints were in prior to becoming the Twins Triple-A affiliate, from 2009-10, 12-13. He spent one season with the New York-Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays, the Low-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, in 2011. Following his time with the Canaries in 2013, Tramp was the Visiting Clubhouse Manager for the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros in 2014. He went on to work as the Clubhouse Manager for the Biloxi Shuckers, the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, in 2015. He joined the Twins organization in 2018 and was the Fort Myers Miracle Clubhouse Manager for two seasons. Tramp got married this off-season to his wife Amanda and they spent the winter living in Minnesota.

The 26-year-old Ficek returns for his second season with the Saints and third with the Twins organization. He was a Minor League Video Intern in 2021 before being hired full-time. Ficek began in baseball with the Tampa Bay Rays as a Minor League Intern in 2020. He graduated from Ohio State University in 2018 where he was a Student Assistant responsible for filming, editing, and processing all practices and games for coaches’ review. Ficek was a Production Intern at ESPN following graduation in 2018 and worked as a Baseball Operations Intern at Inside Edge, Inc. in Bloomington, Minnesota in 2019.

Hughes, 32, begins his second season with the Saints and first in a full-time role. Last season he was an intern in the Twins organization in the baseball technology department, primarily with the Saints. Hughes was a US Military Academy at West Point graduate in 2014 and was a Field Artillery Officer in the US Army from 2014-22. He received his Master of Business Administration from Webster University in 2021. His first job in the sports world was with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022 working on data insights and research.

The Saints begin the 2023 season on the road against the Toledo Mud Hens on Friday, March 31 at 3:05 p.m. central. The home opener is on Tuesday, April 4 at 6:37 p.m. against the Iowa Cubs.

(info courtesy of Saints Baseball)

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