Retired MLB slugger and his wife are on a mission for God
FLORENCE, Ala. — Josh Willingham stayed up most of the…
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hours before a spring training game, a visitor finds Minnesota Twins bench coach Steve Liddle in a clubhouse office fiddling with a fishing pole.
The pole belongs to manager Ron Gardenhire, Liddle’s boss and friend. The two and a few others spent the morning trying out the manager’s new boat on the Gulf of Mexico.
Afterward, Liddle dropped off Gardenhire at the stadium and went to wash the boat.
“That’s part of being the bench coach,” Liddle, a member of the Roseville Church of Christ in Minnesota, said with a smile.
Even after 25-plus years in professional baseball, Liddle maintains the down-home humor and solid Christian values that earned him the nickname “Country” as a minor-leaguer.
“Through it all, God and Christ have always been No. 1 in his life,” said his uncle Jackie Charlton, a member of the Smith Springs Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn., where Liddle’s father and grandfathers all served as elders.
“His family is proud of him,” Charlton added. “Not as much for what he has accomplished in coaching, but the fact that he has kept his faith through all the things that can draw young boys away.”
Liddle, 48, grew up outside Nashville, hunting, fishing, playing ball and going to tent revivals.
As a sophomore, he played catcher on Lipscomb University’s 1979 NAIA national championship team. He earned All-American honors his junior and senior seasons.
At Lipscomb, he studied Baseball 101 — hitting, catching and throwing strikes — under the late Ken Dugan, who won 1,137 games in 37 seasons as coach.
“The fundamentals that (the late Ken Dugan) taught there at Lipscomb, we continue to teach here at the Minnesota Twins.”
“The fundamentals that he taught there at Lipscomb, we continue to teach here at the Minnesota Twins,” Liddle said before throwing batting practice to outfielder Torii Hunter and three other Twins.
Liddle signed with the California Angels in 1981. By 1985, he made the Angels’ 40-man roster. But making a throw one night, “everything came loose inside” his right elbow. Never fully recovering, he played his final minor-league season in 1988.
While he had dreamed of playing in the major leagues, “it never was do or die for me because I believe in a higher being,” he said. “Baseball wasn’t my life. How I lived my life was my life.”
With his physical education degree from Lipscomb, he figured he’d go home and teach school. But the Twins offered him a minor-league coaching position.
About that same time, he met Anne Huey, his future wife, at a singles get-together at the Antioch Church of Christ in Tennessee.
Anne, the daughter of a church elder from Arkansas, didn’t know much about baseball. But she shared Liddle’s faith. They married in 1991 and have three children: Ben, 12; Jake, 8; and Sarah, 5.
“He’s still just who he was raised to be,” Anne Liddle said.
Liddle and Gardenhire became close while playing with the Triple-A Portland (Ore.) Beavers in 1987.
“We used to argue baseball day and night, talk baseball day and night, and we still do,” Liddle said.
When the Twins named Gardenhire manager in 2002, he hired Liddle as his “right-hand man.”
“We used to argue baseball day and night, talk baseball day and night, and we still do.”
The computer-savvy Liddle helps with pitching and batting match-ups, works to steal opposing teams’ signs and deals with clubhouse issues on the manager’s behalf.
“We could all probably learn a lot by watching him and his family,” Gardenhire said. “He always puts God first, and we all know that and respect that. … Anne, if she’s not one of God’s angels right now, there aren’t too many … because I’m telling you what, she’s right there.”
Bill Springman, the Twins’ minor-league hitting coordinator, is a member of the Park Plaza Church of Christ in Tulsa, Okla.
Springman, the son of a preacher, said Liddle’s faith helps the team keep baseball in perspective.
Update: Liddle later served as Gardenhire’s bench coach in Detroit
“You can’t put too much faith in this game,” Springman said. “You have to have faith in the only one who’s going to give you peace, and that’s the Lord Jesus. … To me, it’s nice because, if I’m feeling down, I can go to Steve as a brother.”
Anne Liddle home-schools the two younger children, while their older son attends a cyber-school. While in Florida, the family worships at the Gulf Coast Church of Christ in Fort Myers. In the offseason, they attend the Smyrna Church of Christ in Tennessee.
Coaching in the major leagues, Liddle said, he’s living a dream. Still, he said, “The thing I worry most about is my children. My wife is a single parent this time of year. … I don’t want to do this forever.”
But his wife said Liddle is a devoted father who makes the most of his time with the children. Steve and Anne read the Bible with the children each night.
“You always want to try and keep everything in perspective,” Liddle said, hours before fans flocked down a walkway lined with palm trees to see the Twins play the Cincinnati Reds.
“Yeah, this is a big-league job. It’s great. But you know, it’s not the end of all. It’s not my goal.
“My goal is to go to heaven. And I want my children and my wife and everybody I come in touch with to go.”
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