Billy Gardner: The MML Interview

By on 3 April, 2013 in Fun, Interviews, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

Biscuits manager Billy Gardner is in his seventh year in Montgomery. Although he is not a loud and brash public figure, he is extremely familiar to Biscuits fans accustomed to seeing him coaching third base and has quietly put together a reputation as one of the best managers in minor league baseball.

Gardner doesn’t do a lot of interviews, but amid the hectic scramble in the days before Opening Day 2013, was kind enough to sit down for an exclusive with Midtown Montgomery Living.

When he’s not coaching the Biscuits (the AA affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays), Gardner lives in Ohio. But for many months of the year, he lives here in Montgomery and has come to enjoy his time in our city.

“You know, this is just an outstanding situation and an outstanding city,” Gardner said. “For any manager, it’s obviously a year-to-year thing, but this is a great organization — from the owners, Tom Dickson and Sherrie Myers, through the whole front office and the whole staff.”

“These really are some of the best fans I’ve been around in my career. We have a great booster club that does a lot without asking for a lot from us, and although everybody loves a winner, we have a steady following,” Gardner said. “It’s nice to come out and see some of the same people game after game.”

That praise doesn’t come from a wide-eyed newcomer. When Gardner offers an opinion, it’s based on experience. He is in his 19th year as a manager, and before Montgomery, was at the helm of the Cincinnati Reds’ affiliate in Dayton.

But Gardner’s baseball experience began long before he became a coach — or even a player. Gardner’s dad was also a baseball coach, meaning that he grew up in batting cages and on carefully manicured fields.

“My dad was of course a strong influence. Like Yogi Berra said, you can learn a lot by watching,” Gardner said. “Ultimately, this is a people business. When it comes to X’s and O’s, I’m still looking for that perfect book about baseball strategy, but at the end of the day, this is about how you deal with people and how you’ve connected to the players.”

As a minor league manager, building those connections can be especially challenging, Gardner said.

“You’ve got a fluid roster and that’s just part of it,” he said. “Our goals while we have them here is to teach them to play the way the Rays want them to play. The closer to the major leagues you get, the more you want to prepare them to be ready to help the club. But at the same time, you don’t want to rush them and the players have to work at the pace that is right for them.”

From talking to Gardner, it’s clear that there are no magic wands or shortcuts — just as in any educational process.

“We’ve got a great staff, but a lot of it is also up to the player. We’re here to facilitate learning, but they have to want to keep pushing.”

With Gardner providing such a familiar sight piloting the Biscuits, is there any chance that we will one day see a Montgomery team without his leadership (and history of success)? He’s a little elusive on this point.

“Coaches are like players, and it’s true that there are other clubs out there. Not all of the players we work with end up signing with Tampa. But you can really only control the job you can do,” Gardner said. “Although I’d of course love the chance to manage in the majors, there are only a handful of jobs, so it’ not really something I spend a lot of time on.”

Needless to say, Gardner is one of those coaches that you could easily envision as skipper of an MLB club. He makes smart in-game decisions, appears to be a great teacher and shaper of talent, and isn’t afraid to let the umpires know when they get a call wrong. He has had his hands on some of the top talent in the major leagues and has been a key part of why baseball observers nearly-unanimously point to the Rays franchise as one of the best in baseball from top to bottom.

Biscuits fans attending games should pay a little extra attention to the guy in the old fashioned batting helmet coaching third base. Opening Day is tomorrow at Biscuits Stadium at 7:05 p.m. More information and tickets are available at www.biscuitsbaseball.com.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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