Souhan: Gardenhire, Watkins families felt wrath of Hurricane Ian

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FORT MYERS, FLA. — Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire owns a house in Fort Myers. The main portion of the residence is on stilts. He built an apartment on the ground level, so his kids would have a place to stay when they visited.

Hurricane Ian damaged the house, and destroyed the apartment.

Tommy Watkins, the Twins' third base coach, grew up in, played in and worked in Fort Myers. Many of his family members still live in the city that hosts Twins spring training and is the home of the team's Class A affiliate, the Mighty Mussels.

Watkins lives in Pensacola, Fla., now, but for years he was known in the Twins organization as "The Mayor of Fort Myers."

Visitors to spring training won't need to drive far from the airport or ballpark to see the effects of Ian, including a dogpile of broken yachts near Fort Myers Beach. If they confine their activities to the Lee County Sports Complex, they might never realized how devastating Ian was.

The Gardenhire and Watkins families know.

On Sept. 22, 2022, Ian struck the Gulf Coast.

"We were still up in Minnesota," said Toby Gardenhire, Ron's son and the manager of the Class AAA St. Paul Saints. "We had a game. My parents were down here. I called them in the morning and they said they were going to stay in their house on Fort Myers Beach.

"Then they got the news that there was going to be a 15-foot storm surge. When they heard that, they drove out of town."

The Gardenhires headed inland, to Okeechobee, where they met up with former Twins coach Steve Liddle.

"I'm glad they got out of town," Toby said. "They had 11 feet of water in their community. The flooding was all the way up to their bottom floor. They lost my Mom's brand-new car, my Dad's motorcycle, their boat, both of their jet skis, the entire lower floor got wiped out.

"They have to gut it, all of the walls got ripped out and now they're just starting to have it all boxed in and put the sheet rock up. They lost a lot."

Watkins' parents live in Fort Myers. The Twins were playing a getaway day game in Kansas City on Sept. 22. Watkins couldn't reach them before or after the game.

"It was tough," Watkins said. "I couldn't reach them until the next day. Waiting to hear from them was tough, and seeing all of the pictures was tough.

"They turned out to be OK."

Watkins' wife, Courtney, is a vice president of marketing, content and communications with Margaritaville. "She came down for work and we were out on the beach," Watkins said. "That beach got hit really hard. Seeing all of the buildings that are missing, that's rough."

Watkins played at Riverdale High in Fort Myers, and with the team now known as the Mighty Mussels.

The Twins began training in Fort Myers in 1991. Ron Gardenhire was one of Tom Kelly's coaches then. He, like Watkins, became a popular figure in Fort Myers.

So the Gardenhires are rebuilding. They also have a townhouse in Minnesota, and regularly visit family in Oklahoma.

Some of their neighbors aren't so lucky. Either they didn't have insurance, or didn't have enough insurance to rebuild.

"He's insured, but when you build an apartment underneath the stilts, that's not insured because of this exact thing," Gardenhire said. "They didn't have power in the lower part of the house for a long time; they're just starting to get that back. I have a place down here, too, so they had a place where they could come and take a shower and stay overnight while they were working on their house.

"Yeah, 90 degrees with no AC is not fun. They were lucky they had a place to go. A lot of people didn't."