MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Even with the threat of contraction looming, new Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is focused on the 2002 season.
"We all know that contraction is out there," Gardenhire said. "But I can't do anything about that. All I can do is go and get this team ready for spring training."
Gardenhire replaces longtime manager Tom Kelly and inherits a team that finished second in the AL Central last season, Minnesota's best finish since it won the World Series.
With commissioner Bud Selig's contraction tied up in court and spring training just six weeks away, the Twins couldn't wait any longer to hire a successor to Kelly, who resigned in October. Gardenhire was given a two-year contract on Friday.
"We want to move forward with the assumption that the team is going to play in 2002," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said.
Ryan said Gardenhire was perfect for the job.
"He has proven that he is the best person for this position because of his hard work, loyalty and familiarity with the Minnesota Twins," Ryan said.
Gardenhire and bench coach Paul Molitor emerged as the finalists, but the Twins suspended their search after baseball owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams before the 2002 season. Molitor withdrew from consideration last month because of the team's uncertain future.
Minnesota and Montreal are the likely teams to be picked for contraction, but the plan was stopped Nov. 16 when a Minnesota judge issued an injunction forcing the team to honor its lease this year at the Metrodome. The Twins and baseball appealed, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals -- which heard the case last week -- hasn't ruled.
The 44-year-old Gardenhire said the team needs to prepare as if it will play.
"To have a job, be it here in my home state -- I've brought my family here to live -- is wonderful," said Gardenhire, who was born in West Germany and went to high school in Oklahoma.
Koskie, who attended the news conference, said Gardenhire will do a great job. He said players were anxious for a manager to be hired and for spring training to start, if only to take their minds off contraction.
"You can get overwhelmed by it," he said. "You read about it in the papers every day -- the same thing -- and it gets frustrating. But I think everything will work out."
Kent Hrbek, the first baseman when Minnesota won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, said Gardenhire's experience with the team made him the logical choice.
"For the team to keep moving forward and doing well, they had to stay inside the organization," Hrbek said. "I've been talking to him all winter, and he wanted to manage this team, and that's important -- to have someone who really wants to lead."
Gardenhire was college star at Texas but an average pro player, hitting .232 in portions of five seasons with the New York Mets. He was a minor league manager for three seasons before joining the Twins' staff in 1991.
Asked who his best manager was, he joked: "I can't say TK. He cut me after, like, two months of spring training. ... He might have been a good one, but he sent me down pretty quick."
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