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True to his word, Molitor took a $1.5 million pay cut after the 1995 season to sign for one year and $2 million with Minnesota (a deal that was extended this winter for two more years and $6.25 million and will enable him to finish his Hall of Fame career in the Twin Cities). The 40-year-old Molitor was worth every penny in 1996: He batted .341, drove in 113 runs, scored 99 runs and had a league-leading 225 hits, including his 3,000th.
Molitor also quietly recruited Steinbach, a fellow former University of Minnesota Gopher. "Paul gave me a lot of advice about the process to follow when becoming a free agent," says Steinbach, whose allegiance to the A's was sapped when the Haas family sold the team in 1995 and manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan left for the St. Louis Cardinals. "Paul had been through it twice: 'Make a list of places you'd like to play, get all the offers on the table, and weigh your options.' I made my decision based on geographic location, general manager, manager, coaches, commitment to winning, player personnel and money. And pretty much in that order."
A big factor in Minnesota's ability to lure or keep free agents is manager Tom Kelly, who took over the Twins in 1986 and is the longest-tenured manager in the major leagues. "The last couple of years I've watched how his teams have played while they've been rebuilding," Steinbach says. "He concentrates on playing the game right. His players run balls out. They hit the cutoff man. They don't showboat or hot dog. There's no name-calling, no finger-pointing when they lose. You don't just push a button and have that happen. It's a process, and the manager's responsible."
Kelly downplays his role in the return of the natives. "The big thing is, they want to play in their home state, in front of their family and friends," he says.
Don't try calling Steinbach for tickets to Opening Day though. The Steinbach clan is large, and its roots are sunk deep in the Minnesota loam. Terry's great-grandparents emigrated from Luxembourg in the early 1900s. His grandparents settled in New Ulm; his parents, Lloyd and Nellie, still live and work there, as does his brother Tom and his sister, Tracy. His other brother, Tim, lives in nearby Chaska. Mary was raised in north St. Paul, and her entire family still lives in or near the Twin Cities.
That kind of stability is one thing Steinbach hoped to give his own children by signing with the Twins. "We decided a long time ago we would always keep a home in Minnesota but would also keep the family together all year," he says. "So on February 1, we'd move to Arizona for spring training—we'd pull the kids out of school and get them a tutor—and in April we'd move to our home in Alameda [Calif.], and the kids would be placed in private school. Then in September, Mar•' would take the kids back to Minnesota for the start of the school year, and I'd join them after the season. Going from school to school might work for one kid, but all three? Jill didn't mind it, but Lucas used to run a fever and get sick every time we started to pack. For me to play in Minnesota gives them a chance to have some consistency in their lives, to establish routines of their own, to play soccer, hockey and baseball with the same friends. It doesn't guarantee they'll be great kids, but it's a better life."
What price do you put on that? One million dollars? Two? Which is why Steinbach didn't bat an eye at the money he left on the table by signing with the Twins. This is not the Material Man. "Part of my upbringing is how you fit in," he says. "People around here knew Mary and me when I was stone-cold broke, and we're trying to tell people, money hasn't changed us."
Which is why, if someone from New Ulm—often a stranger—is in the Twin Cities and calls him for lunch, Steinbach is likely to accept. Steinbach donated the van he won as the MVP of the 1988 All-Star Game to the New Ulm United Way. He finances a college scholarship every year for a student-athlete from one of New Ulm's three high schools. He doesn't care whether or not he's the highest-paid catcher in baseball. "My whole financial plan was based on me retiring this year, after my last contract was up," he says. "I was looking forward to seeing how bored I could get looking after my land. Then I had to go have a good year and mess everything up."
Steinbach has no definitive explanation for the surge of power last year that enabled him to set the American League record for home runs by a catcher (34; his other homer came as a pinch hitter). His weight-training regimen in the off-season—Steinbach has a 10-station home gym—was identical to the routine he'd followed since 1988. "If it was just me, that would be one thing," Steinbach says. "A lot of guys had career years. There are some new hitters' parks in the league plus a lot of young pitchers. Young pitchers make mistakes. I certainly hope they're not expecting another 35 homers out of me this year."
What the Twins are expecting is for Steinbach's experience behind the plate to help their young pitching staff, which last year had an ERA of 5.28, 12th in the league. "Early in my career I handled a veteran staff with the A's—guys like Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Rick Honeycutt, Dennis Eckersley—and I adapted to them. I learned much more from them than they learned from me. I want to help the young guys eliminate mistakes and get to know who's a situational hitter and who's not, and how to pitch accordingly. That's the fun part."