ORLANDO, Fla. — Rick Renick belted a home run the first time he stepped up to the plate wearing a major league uniform.
"I shoulda quit right there," he jokes.
But Renick has always considered himself a "baseball man." And baseball men don't quit the sport they love.
Much has happened in Renick's life since he sent Mickey Lolich's 2-and-1 fastball over the left-field fence at old Met Stadium on July 11, 1968.
His latest move brings him to Orlando for his first spring training camp as Minnesota Twins' third base coach. He follows Tom Kelly, who has moved up to manage the only ballclub for which both Renick and Kelly ever played.
"I started with this organization," says Renick, a utility infielder for the Twins from 1968-72 who served as third base coach for the Montreal Expos the last two seasons. "I'm thrilled to be back. I know Tom Kelly and I've always admired him."
The admiration is mutual.
"I knew he was a hard worker," Kelly says. "He did a good job coaching third when I managed against him in the minors. I think he'll do a great job for us."
The job isn't an easy one. Just imagine this scenario:
Bottom of the ninth, two out, Twins behind 3-2, runner on second, outfield at medium depth. Base hit to center. Immediately, Renick must determine the speed of the batted ball as it heads toward the center fielder, the speed of the baserunner, the strength of the center fielder's arm, the jump the baserunner got off second base. If Renick makes the wrong decision--if he sends the runner home and the runner gets thrown out at the plate to end the game--Renick must then walk back to the dugout to face Kelly, whom many considered one of baseball's best third base coaches over the last few years.
"When you're here, you're running the game from here," Renick says, pointing to the third base coach's box at Tinker Field. "You're making split-second decisions. If they're safe, nobody says anything to you; if they're out, everyone says, 'My God, why did you send him?'
"It is a high pressure job. But I expect Tom to be supportive. He's been there."
Kelly says it's easier to be the third base coach under a manager who is a former third base coach. He broke into the big leagues in 1983 under Billy Gardner, a former third base coach, before serving under former pitching coach Ray Miller the last 1 1/2 years.
"You want your manager to know what it's like there," Kelly says. "If a manager has never coached third, he doesn't know what you're going through out there. I hired Rick Renick to coach third. He does what he thinks is right. I'm never going to second-guess him."
The hiring of Renick was the first sign that the Twins had a new man in charge on the field. It was Kelly's first official act as manager after the club hadn't consulted him on several other moves.
"Tom thought Renick was the appropriate choice," says Andy MacPhail, Minnesota's executive vice president. "There were three or four possible choices, but Tom made it known that Rick was his No. 1 choice and that was OK with us. A major-league manager has to be particularly close to his third base coach."
Renick and Kelly have similar coaching philosophies.
"I'm very aggressive at third and Tom was aggressive, too," Renick says. "Tom knows me and I know Tom. We have very good rapport. I think we're going to do some things this spring that Minnesota may not have done for many, many years. We'll run a lot more, for one thing."
When Miller took over for the fired Gardner, he also said the Twins would run more. Instead, Minnesota continued to be a slugging team with little speed--leadoff hitter Kirby Puckett slammed 31 homers and stole 20 bases last year--and the Twins continued to lose, costing Miller his job.
"Obviously, some different things have to be tried," Renick says. "If you're aggressive, you make things happen. If you're not, you're just waiting for something to happen to you."