Learning Leadership from Chris Gimenez
Image courtesy of © Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsLooking back on the offseason, it’s hard not to reminisce about how much talent was acquired through the dollars that were spent. A potentially unconsidered caveat however, is that the amount of one-year deals handed out played out counter-productively within the clubhouse. That sentiment has been offered by a few different publications, and the return of Matt Belisle was noted heavily as one rooted in veteran leadership.
As a team takes shape, leadership is a quality that is both formed and earned. Despite being outside of the organization for the vast majority of the year, Chris Gimenez carries a strong reputation for being a veteran leader. When looking to discuss how that leadership impacts the game, a conversation with the Twins backstop seemed imperative. I was able to ask him a handful of questions, and he provided plenty of insight as to what level of impact can be made when the fans aren’t watching.
Twins Daily: We often hear of "veteran leadership" as a term tied to why a player may be acquired. How is that defined for you? Is it a vocal thing, lead by example, or something entirely different?
Chris Gimenez: Veteran leadership is all the above! It’s absolutely a vocal thing, it’s being able to see things and either address it with the individual or in a group setting. The veterans are the ones that have been there and done that and have either failed or succeed and now are there to offer advice or just lead by example a lot of times!
TD: In assembling a 25-man roster, how important is it to have a true leadership presence. Is lacking in that area something that can be debilitating to a clubhouse?
CG: In putting together 25 guys one of the most over looked but most important aspects of a team is the leaders! It would be like going into battle but without a plan of attack. Not having someone in that locker room to lead is absolutely debilitating. I’ve often found that the leaders of the clubhouse are the guys who do not play every day! They can see things from a different perspective and are often able to address things.
TD: You've obviously been in plenty of big-league clubhouses, and now on two separate Twins teams. What are some of the most important takeaways from how a team comes together in your time as a professional?
CG: Teams often really come together around the first month of the season or the first real hardship you encounter. A lot of times the 25 guys that start the year together haven’t had much time together in spring training. Getting guys in the clubhouse joking around having fun on the ball field is what creates that. We often do team dinners on the road to get guys together and hang out off the field. It’s great for building relationships and having all the guys on the same page. All teams are different in how they come together ultimately, but these things help that along a bit. Leaders are integral in facilitating things like this on and off the field.
TD: It's probably a little bittersweet going from a contender to a team with no postseason chances this season. When something like that happens how do your personal goals change? What are you looking to bring to Minnesota over the final month?
CG: You are right anytime you move down in the standings it’s not ideal, but honestly, I think it was the perfect move for me. This place has really felt like home and what we accomplished last year was nothing short of spectacular. When a group of guys believe in each other it can become a very powerful thing. My goal for the rest of the season is to help wherever I can. Through the twists and turns of a season the team has gotten a lot younger, which is a good and bad thing. My job now is to be a vocal leader in the clubhouse to show these guys how to go about their business daily. Show these guys what it means to be a good teammate and a big leaguer! I will help young pitchers in the video room, catch pens, and give feedback. I’ll also help young hitters with the in-game adjustments they will have to learn to make. Most importantly, I’ll be the guy who shows everyone how to have fun and know that’s ok to do as well!
TD: Over the course of your career, you've been employed under both Thad Levine and Derek Falvey at multiple stops. What can you tell us about them as executives that fans may not see or know?
CG: Thad and Derek are very smart guys. I know that’s not breaking news, but I think you can expect a very forward-thinking front office. I know they have a plan, and last year might have altered that a bit, but they are very smart and knowledgeable in what they do. Derek has a great eye for pitching so that should be one area to look forward to as they move forward. Thad is great with people and relationships as well as advanced metrics. The plan might have been reset a bit this year, so I think you will still see a competitive team but some young kids getting valuable experience.
TD: As a veteran, you've crafted your game over a significant portion of time. Mitch Garver is playing through his rookie year this season and has seemed to progress nicely from early on. What's your assessment of him in the time you've spent working together?
CG: First off, Garv has made big strides this year behind the plate! I think we all knew it was in there and the bat plays but Jason getting hurt this year kind of thrust him in there to learn on the fly and he has done a great job. He needs to continue studying hitters, and I’ve been really impressed with his ability to formulate and execute a game plan! This year has been a long one for him, and this last month can really get to you physically if you’re not used to it. Because of that, he will be better prepared in the future as well. I think there is a lot to like about Mitch in the very near future, and I won’t be surprised when he is a very good big-league catcher and has a long, great career.
TD: Finally, having been a part of two Twins teams going in opposite directions, what do you think is the biggest factor in turning it around for 2019? Injuries and unfortunate situations have reared their head this year, but where does the biggest area of opportunity lie?
CG: Health will always be a big part of the next year. Loosing Erv really hurt as the anchor of your staff wasn’t there. He’s the guy that was supposed to lead by example out there every fifth day. I also think some next steps from a few core players will help that as well. I really like some of the bullpen pieces we have for the future, as well as a few of the young starters. Continuing to sprinkle in guys to fill in the gaps will also help. I love the coaching staff in place, they do a great job with the young guys.