Gardenhire's status with the club was also in doubt, with his contract expiring after 12 seasons with the Twins, but he was ultimately retained on a two-year extension despite Minnesota's struggles over the last three seasons.
So Gardenhire is now on the lookout for his 1,000th career win early this season, with the Twins having to hold onto their ceremonial gifts from last year six months longer than expected.
"I think we'll get there," closer Glen Perkins said with a laugh. "But it would be a good thing if we're there by our home opener [on Monday] so we can tie it all together."
Gardenhire, however, isn't thinking about getting those two wins, and he is only reminded of it because his wife, Carol, is on the road trip through Chicago and Cleveland with him to be there in case he reaches the 1,000-win mark.
"I don't think about it until [the media] asks me or my wife," Gardenhire said. "I wish it would've taken care of itself so we wouldn't have to worry about it. It's a personal thing, and I'm not really into that. It's longevity more than anything else. We had some good years here, but it's longevity. So it's a milestone, yes, but it's not on the mind right now until somebody brings it up."
When Gardenhire reaches the milestone, he'll be in select company, as he'll be the 60th manager to reach that mark, and just the eighth since 1961 to reach 1,000 wins all with one team. He would also join former Twins manager Tom Kelly in that exclusive club, as Kelly went 1,140-1,244 with two World Series titles in 16 years in Minnesota.
But Gardenhire, who has a career record of 998-948, has a different style than Kelly, whom he served under as third-base coach from 1991-2001 before taking over as the Twins' manager in '02. Kelly was known for his calm demeanor -- he was ejected just five times for arguing with umpires during his career -- while Gardenhire isn't afraid to let his personality show and leads all active managers with 67 ejections.
"I don't think he's changed his style much at all -- he's a players' manager," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "He wants to be aggressive and do a lot of things, but [he] also understands you have to work with what you have. I think he has the players' respect and doesn't make things too complicated."
Gardenhire, 56, had plenty of success early in his managerial career, winning six division titles in his first nine years while finishing second in the balloting for the American League Manager of the Year Award five times (2003, '04, '06, '08 and '09) before finally winning the award in '10.
But Minnesota has fallen on hard times since then, with the club winning just 63 games in 2011, and 66 in both '12 and '13. But Twins players gave Gardenhire a vote of confidence late last season, as Perkins said he personally went into the manager's office to let him know his teammates wanted him back.
Gardenhire was ultimately given a two-year extension, with the front office recognizing the failures came from a lack of talent, especially within the starting rotation, rather than Gardenhire's managerial abilities.
So now, Gardenhire is tasked with trying to turn Minnesota around with several top prospects on the way, and the Twins believe he's still the right man for the job.
"Everyone loves playing for him, and we made that clear at the end of the year last year when we told him we wanted him back," Perkins said. "I think everyone in this clubhouse is happy he's here. He's our leader."