FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) Terry Ryan entered his office during a public showcase of renovations at Minnesota’s spring training facility and found a handful of fans inside admiring the stadium view.
Ryan barely broke stride. They were welcome, he said, to look around.
For anyone with the Twins, really, the small crowd in the room was more like a sign of progress. Last year, it was empty most of the time while Ryan endured cancer treatment in Minnesota.
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”He came down for a day,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said, ”and that was probably the best day all spring we all had.”
Ryan was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma after he found a hard lump on his neck about an inch in diameter during the winter before last season. Because doctors caught the cancer early, subsequent surgery and radiation was able to fully eradicate the disease from his body. Ryan was back on the job by May and, in an interview on Sunday, said he felt at full strength around August.
Checkups are required every three months with his doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, about 85 miles southeast of Minneapolis, but he’s otherwise living a normal life again. The 61-year-old Ryan has even been cleared to consume spicy foods again. The radiation dulled his taste buds and evaporated his saliva to the point where swallowing was impossible for a while.
”I couldn’t touch a bowl of chili, for instance. I couldn’t even get near it. So now I’m over that. I can even have Tabasco now. As soon as I knew that I could eat that, I said, `OK, I’m making progress,”’ Ryan said.
His mouth still dries up quickly, particularly during extended conversations, but there aren’t any limitations that affect his ability to actually run the organization. His biggest frustration these days is the bland experience that eating has become without much help from his taste buds.
”I wish it would hurry up. I can’t wait for that to come back,” Ryan said. ”I’m thinking that’s the final piece, and I’ve been told that’s the final piece. As soon as your taste comes back, you’re in pretty good shape.”
Ryan’s primary impatience, of course, is with the Twins and their return to contention. After averaging 96 losses over the last four seasons, Ryan fired manager Ron Gardenhire and replaced him with Paul Molitor.
”As far as my drive, I would say it’s more now,” Ryan said. ”We’ve got things here we need to straighten out. We haven’t done enough, and some of it’s bad baseball decisions, and I get that. I’ve made my share. We’ve got to do better. But there are no excuses either. None.”
St. Peter said his favorite spring training moments have been lunch conversations with Ryan and other members of the front office, just talking about current events over sandwiches, not about the business of baseball.
”We missed those times with Terry last year,” he said. ”So as an organization we’re thrilled to have him healthy and here in Fort Myers doing what he loves to do, which is being part of spring training. It’s a special thing for anybody in baseball, but my guess for Terry is that this year it’s even more special.”
For Molitor, too, as the first-time manager.
He oversaw the first official pitchers and catchers workout at the CenturyLink Sports Complex on Monday, trying to get a feel for which fields to watch and how the program is running after months of preparation.
”It was great to be out on the field. That was the biggest plus for me, to get out there and have a little action rather than just verbal,” Molitor said.
Make no mistake about Molitor, though. He has plenty of conviction in this plan, despite his lack of managerial experience.
”If you go out there and you’re kind of hemming and hawing and showing any signs of doubt, then it’s going to transfer into the attitudes of the players,” Molitor said. ”So I’m trying to get them to understand, `I want you to buy into what we’re doing,’ and we think it’s going to work.”
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