|Matt Straub, Rocky, Evan Macy and Brad Carroll. (Rob Heyl photo)|
Last year, Smith was the featured speaker as well. But the difference between that speech and this year's was like night and day. Like winning 99 games and then losing 99. Of course, those 99 losses by the Twins a year ago set up this awkward meeting with the media and the public.
Smith was fired as Twins general manager in November, but after taking a couple months off, he decided to return to the team as assistant to new general manager Terry Ryan and the team president. Smith chose to stay with the one baseball family he knows best.
That's not the awkward part, as if that's what Smith ultimately wanted in continuing his baseball career, that's great for him and his family. What was awkward was the Twins sending him to New Britain to represent the organization for this public appearance.
For the media, we're used to this, so asking the difficult questions and turning the answers into stories is part of the job. But to have Smith represent the organization in this setting, where an entire ballroom was filled with baseball fans, leaves something to be desired.
When the Rock Cats announced the hot-stove luncheon, I was surprised Smith was to be the featured speaker once again, his fifth straight year. I'm not sure what the decision-making process was, but somebody had to believe this might be a bad idea. (I won't even get into the fact the Twins should send down some fresh blood for an afternoon to talk baseball in Connecticut).
To his credit, Smith didn't back away from the firing or his return. In the press conference before the luncheon, he brought it up immediately. He was even able to joke about now being an assistant to the man who replaced him (Ryan) and the man who fired him (president Dave St. Peter) both to the media and later to the large public gathering. He was able to find the humor in what had to be a terrible moment for him. But he was able to move on from it.
"Changes had to be made and I certainly understand that and respect that," Smith said. "I'm thrilled to stay with the Twins."
He later added, "When you sign on for the general manager's position, you understand the risk and volatility of it. We had a terrible year last year. My greatest hope is that Terry Ryan and the baseball club wins 95 games again and gets us back on top."
For those in attendance at the luncheon it wasn't an enjoyable moment listening to the former general manager speak. It's not a knock on Smith, he spoke to what he could speak about. He's simply not in charge anymore.
Last year, Smith talked about taking the next step and winning a World Series. He talked about going straight after the New York Yankees, and building a team that could finally topple them in the postseason. It was a fantastic listen, as he wasn't keeping the team's ultimate goal a secret. He even talked about the process of signing pitcher Carl Pavano, including competing against rumors the Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman were going after him.
There was none of that this year. There couldn't be.
Overall, it was another solid event, with Rock Cats manager Jeff Smith giving a fantastic speech about the organization and his role as a Double-A manager. The Rock Cats did everything right.
Hopefully next year a representative of the Minnesota Twins is sent down that will give the fans of the Rock Cats something to talk about when they leave the luncheon. Last year, everyone was buzzing about baseball. This year, it was more somber, as they had to listen to a man who just lost his job speak about those who fired him. It was awkward, but next year it doesn't have to be.