Minneapolis, MN – The Minneapolis Millers have clinched a playoff spot tonight, despite being three games under .500 at 78-81. A mostly rebuilding FL is to thank, to be sure, but a month ago the playoffs seemed like an impossibility for this team.
*One Month Earlier*
The date is August 31, and the Minneapolis Millers playoff hopes are fading fast. The team has just lost 9-2 to their divisional foe, the Vancouver Canadians. The Millers are just 2-6 over their last 8 games heading into September, and even worse all 8 games were against divisional opponents. With the team sitting at 59-72, the organization decided to fire manager Mike Matheny, in a hail mary attempt to salvage their season.
The organization took a beating on social media, as fans and pundits alike were discouraged by the lack of loyalty they showed Matheny just one year after he led the team to 98 wins. With the team moving several key veterans this off-season, it wasn’t any surprise the team was struggling, and it seemed the front office was making Matheny the scape goat for no good reason.
The high-ceilinged building is silent at this time of night, and empty but for the three men sitting in owner Paul Zelx’s office. A brief shadow of Paul Bunyan stadium is visible as the lights slowly shut down for the evening.
“We’re getting killed in the media, E,” Paul began. “They’re going to be calling for your head after tomorrow’s announcement.”
“What else is new,” the Millers GM said with a light laugh. “Second guessing is the only thing the media does well these days. But James is going to be great.”
“Thanks, mates,” Some weird Australian voice said.
While those on the outside may have criticized Matheny’s firing, those inside the clubhouse welcomed it, sources said. Matheny had continued to rub both players and staff the wrong way, and veteran players felt he was micro managing situations far too often.
The front office had hoped Matheny’s influence would help catcher Don Sanders improve defensively, but their relationship had soured in the summer months this season as the manager was especially hard on him for the struggling pitching staff, sources insisted.
Following Matheny’s firing, shortstop Trace Loehr reportedly went to management and asked for them to hire a more easygoing manager, at least for the rest of the season. Someone who would let the veterans in the clubhouse lead the team as needed.
When news broke that the Minneapolis Millers had decided to replace Mike Matheny with James Thwaites, the collective feeling was that the Millers had no idea what they were doing. Replacing a former big league player and successful CBL manager with an Australian, recently fired collegiate coach was something from a crappy Disney movie.
Thwaites had been Vanderbilt University’s manager since the 2021 season, posting 5 winning seasons in his 7 at the school, including one national championship in 2025. Vanderbilt had gone just 19-31 this past season, and the AD felt it was time to make a change. The school fired their national championship winning head coach on May 20.
“Getting fired was tough,” James says. “But it ended up being the best thing that could’ve happened.”
From day one, it was clear that Thwaites was going to do things a lot differently than the previous chairholder.
“You could tell he had been in college for awhile,” outfielder Clint Frazier says. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. He was patient with guys, and he really knew how to teach the things he was saying.”
Whether Frazier meant that as a slight toward Matheny or not, the inclination was clear.
Since Thwaites has taken over the reigns, the Millers have been on an absolute tear, going 19-9 so far in September, allowing the team to pull away from both California and San Diego.
The team remains an extreme long shot to make any kind of noise this post-season, but to even be in the tournament at this point has to be considered a victory in itself. If the team can parlay their hot September into any kind of post-season run, James Thwaites may be the quickest living legend in Minneapolis.