Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019


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Twins Tony O’ on Luis Arraez: ‘Tough Out’

August 20, 2019 - (0) comments

 

Twins rookie Luis Arraez has been turning heads since being called up from AAA Rochester last spring, and among those impressed is Tony Oliva who had one of the greatest MLB seasons ever for a first-year player.

In 1964 the Twins right fielder hit .328 and became the first rookie in modern history to win a batting title. He topped the American League in hits, runs and doubles. He also totaled 374 total bases, tying the record set by Hal Trotsky in 1934 for most total bases by a first-year big leaguer.

Oliva, who left Cuba in the early 1960s to begin his professional baseball journey, is now an 81-year-old hitting instructor for the Twins. He is in the clubhouse for each home game and has become acquainted with the 22-year-old Arraez who is hitting .348 after 59 games in the big leagues. In the minors the Venezuelan infielder-outfielder had a .331 average through parts of six seasons, per Baseball-reference.com.

That kind of success in the minors somewhat prepared Oliva for Arraez’s hot hitting this spring and summer in the big leagues. “I am not surprised that he is hitting (so well) because he be hitting very good every single year while he was in the minor leagues,” Oliva told Sports Headliners. “But I get a little surprised…that he is doing so well, he got so much…confidence. He is a very tough out. He hits to the whole field. He doesn’t strike out too often. Ninety-nine percent of the time he swing (at) a strike.”

Tony Oliva

Arraez is a left-handed hitter, like Oliva was, and if he can maintain his batting average he will remain a candidate for American League Rookie of the Year. With 231 plate appearances so far, Arraez won’t have enough to qualify this season for the league batting championship (502 required).

Arraez’s discipline at the plate is impressive, particularly for such a young player. His bat control allows him to hit a balanced number of baseballs to left, center and right field. The way he sprays the ball to all fields is reminiscent of another Twins great, left-handed hitting second baseman and National Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew who won seven AL batting titles.

Arraez has played mostly second base for the Twins but has contributed to the roster’s versatility by also taking assignments at shortstop, third base and left field. He has committed only four errors this season. It seems all but certain the Twins will let 27-year-old second baseman Jonathan Schoop go in the offseason and make Arraez the regular at the position in 2020. Schoop has just a one-year deal with Minnesota.

With Arraez having played in so few games with the Twins, Oliva isn’t ready to go overboard on the newcomer. “It’s easy to get here, but it’s very hard to stay here,” Oliva said. “He could stay here for a long time.”

But Arraez is definitely in good company so far during his brief MLB career. Just last week Twins media specialist Dustin Morse Tweeted that Arraez’s 66 hits in his first 55 games placed him fourth among club rookies dating back to 1961—behind Kirby Puckett at 81, Oliva, 71 and Carew, 70.

Worth Noting

The Twins, who lead the second place Indians by two games, have a favorable schedule the remainder of this month, facing only the While Sox and Tigers who have a combined record of 93 wins, 153 losses. The Indians, by contrast, have a schedule that includes two games against the 73-53 Rays and a series against the above .500 Mets, while playing all their remaining August dates on the road except for a series against the Royals. The Twins have two series at home, two on the road.

The first 10,000 fans in attendance for Saturday’s Twins home game against the Tigers receives the third in a set of four commemorative Joe Mauer bobbleheads. The collectible features Mauer with his 2009 American League MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

A hockey source predicted the Minnesota Wild will announce its new general manager this week, perhaps today. He also told Sports Headliners star defenseman Ryan Suter is among those who owner Craig Leipold has sought input from.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen talking about the time needed to develop chemistry between a quarterback and his receivers: “It takes a long time to get on the same page as the quarterback because there are so many different situations. … You are always still working on it, but it is definitely better to be in a second year with a quarterback (Kirk Cousins) than a first year.”

Cousins has talked with Vikings legend Fran Tarkenton who despite being a highlight reel scrambling quarterback admits to running a 4.9 40-yard dash, a time slower than run now by some NFL offensive linemen.

No fun to write this but fan apathy must be dramatic for the Gophers to announce $10 tickets going on sale later this week for the home opener with South Dakota State.

 

Ex-Coach High on 2019 Vikings

August 18, 2019 - (0) comments

 

The Vikings host an exhibition game tonight against the Seattle Seahawks. The outcome is meaningless but the opportunity to evaluate players as part of the preseason is valuable for general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and others with the organization. The pressure on Spielman, Zimmer and the players is considerable after last season’s 8-7-1 season when Minnesota didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

The prevailing thought is the Vikings have the talent and coaching to rebound from last year and play closer to the level of 2017 when Minnesota was 13-3 during the regular season schedule, and then nearly earned its way to the Minneapolis Super Bowl. While there are skeptics about whether the 2019 edition can do better than eight wins again, you can count Dean Dalton among those with a rosy view about the coming season.

“I think they’re very, very poised to be a strong team,” said Dalton, who was an assistant coach with the Vikings from 1999-2005. “I think offensively we’re going to be excited. They’re going to be fun to watch because they’ll be explosive, yet consistent. Defensively, I think they’ll be able to rise up and keep people off the scoreboard. The variable is special teams, and if they get that group in the upper echelon of the NFL, this is a playoff team with no limitations.”

Kirk Cousins

The Vikings were frequently disappointing on offense last season, with new quarterback Kirk Cousins sometimes unable to make big fourth quarter plays and the running game often absent. Dalton, though, is enthusiastic about the changes in offensive coaches since a year ago, including the addition of Gary Kubiak, the new assistant head coach with a Super Bowl pedigree. Dalton, who lives in Eden Prairie and follows the team closely, told Sports Headliners the 2019 Vikings will have a newfound balance between the run and pass, and success will follow.

The Vikings lost some defensive mystique last year. Opponents scored 24 or more points seven times and there were fourth quarter struggles to make big plays. Yet Minnesota ranked fourth best in the NFL in total yards given up per game at 309.7. Dalton believes the unit this season will be “excellent,” and worthy of top five status when compared with the NFL’s 32 other teams.

Dalton said it was “not a good decision” cutting 12-year veteran defensive end Brian Robison last year. It was an emotional move for many with the organization. The defense missed Robison’s leadership and wisdom, Dalton said. This year, Dalton believes, other members of the defense are ready to fill the leadership void.

What Dalton hopes for and believes is realistic for the Vikings is to become a top 10 or 15 offense, top five defense and rank among the best 15 special teams. The latter is the team’s biggest unknown of the three units, with Zimmer working with new special teams coaches and players. It’s not known who will return punts and kickoffs, who will be the place kicker and who will punt. Even the holder status is TBD, and the preseason will be used, too, to sort out the impact guys covering punts and kickoffs.

Zimmer is shaking things up on special teams. The club has a revolving door history with placekickers but Spielman keeps trying with the latest move making a trade with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire kicker-punter Kaare Vedvik. With new faces instructing and likely newcomers playing key roles, maybe the Vikings can achieve at least middling status among NFL special teams and help the club live up to Dalton’s optimism.

Worth Noting

Dean Lombardi, the former executive with NHL teams including the North Stars, is living in Sonoma, California, and I am told he isn’t interested in the Wild’s GM vacancy.

Bill Guerin, the Penguins assistant general manager, could be the choice for the job and a source said he has the experience and people skills that might attract Wild owner Craig Leipold.

New St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten told Sports Headliners it’s likely his school will have a decision by the first part of next year regarding where the Tommies will compete after leaving the MIAC following the 2020-2021 school year. Esten is spending “about 75 percent” of his time sorting through options for a new conference home and determining whether the Tommies remain a Division III sports program, or target another level.

It’s an unusual partnership for a Division III program, but St. Thomas football games will be heard for a ninth consecutive year on WCCO—also the radio home of the Twins and Timberwolves. Dave Lee, the station’s early morning show host, again will provide play-by-play on Tommies broadcasts. Eric Nelson also returns as the analyst working in the booth with Lee.

Pete Fiutak, writing on the Internet last Tuesday for College Football News, included the Gophers in a story about five promising teams from the Power Five conferences drawing minimal attention. Fiutak wrote “that while Nebraska is considered the Big Ten West’s hot thing, it might just be the Gophers who steal the show.”

Fiutak’s other choices in a story headlined “Five Dangerous Teams No One is Talking about” were Washington State (Tracy Claeys defensive coordinator), Missouri, TCU and Virginia Tech.

Badgerofhonor.com offered predictions about Wisconsin’s 12-game football schedule last Tuesday, with writer Christian Borman forecasting the Badgers will reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe from Minnesota. “This is the game I think the Badgers are looking most forward to,” he wrote.

Former Golden Gophers basketball coach Jim Dutcher talking about the quality of high school basketball in the state: “Proportionally (by population in the U.S.), Minnesota turns out more Division I players than any place in the country.”

Gary “Cookie” Holmes, a contributor to Dutcher’s 1982 Big Ten championship team, oversees charters for Delta Airlines in Minneapolis including Twins flights.

Although Twins prime talents Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are not hitting up to expectations this season, Bleacher Report placed the shortstop and outfielder at No. 11 and 13 respectively on its top 50 MLB prospects list posted last Thursday. The other Twins prospect on the list is right-hand pitcher Brusdar Graterol, ranked No. 32.

Retired manager Tom Kelly, who led the Minnesota Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, turned 69 last week. He was 36 when he became the club’s manager in 1986.

Condolences to former Gophers basketball captain Al Nuness on the passing of his 98-year-old mom, Fannie Nuness, who lived in Hopkins after being a longtime resident of Maywood, Illinois.

The Capital Club will hear from Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle August 28 and Minnesota Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson October 4 at Town & Country Club in St. Paul. More information about the club is available from Patrick Klinger, patrickklinger@klingercompany.com.

Sun Country Airlines is partnering with Minnesota United for a fan charter to the U.S. Open Cup Final in Atlanta August 27, offering $325 round-trip tickets. The price includes bus transportation to and from the stadium, but not a game ticket to watch the Loons.

 

Twins Under .500 When Buxton Out

August 14, 2019 - (0) comments

 

Enjoy a Wednesday notes column leading off with the Minnesota Twins.

Byron Buxton was placed on the injured list with a left shoulder subluxation on August 3 and still isn’t ready to return. That’s the fourth time this season the Twins’ invaluable center fielder has been on the injured list with ailments, including a right wrist contusion and concussion-like symptoms.

The Twins, with a 72-47 record, have been under .500 with Buxton absent. Looking at the dates when Buxton was placed on the injured list until the days he was activated, the club’s record is 13-15.

Buxton would receive a lot of support in any vote for MLB’s best outfielders. Now in his fifth season with the Twins, his career highlight film is filled with ooh and aah plays in the field. His pitchers  applaud him for game-saving plays. This season his fielding average is .991, with just two errors in 215 chances. The club’s best base stealer, the Twins simply aren’t the same team without him.

The Twins and Indians could stay close in the race to win the AL Central Division going into the final weeks of the season. After a three-game series in Cleveland that ends September 15, it appears the Twins will have an easier remaining schedule than the Indians. Minnesota will play the White Sox and Royals at home, and on the road against the Tigers and Royals. Those three Central Division teams have a combined 131 wins and 223 losses as of today, while the Indians must play four opponents (Tigers, Phillies, Nationals, and White Sox) who are 301 and 289. The Nationals and Phillies are in contention for the postseason, while none of the other clubs mentioned are.

The Indians, until they came to Minneapolis for a four-game series last week, hadn’t played another above .500 team on the road since May.

Minnesota starter Jake Odorizzi, 13-5 with a 3.44 ERA, is 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA against the Indians. His continued success will be vital if the Twins are to qualify for the playoffs.

Twins home run leader Max Kepler appears at the Ridgedale Fan HQ store September 22, while Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes is at the Eden Prairie location September 8. More details including ticket information visit FanHqStore.com – info@fanhqstore.com

Ron Stolski

Happy birthday to Brainerd head football coach Ron Stolski who turned 80 on Monday, the opening day of practice for high school teams in Minnesota. He has been coaching prep football for 58 seasons, with 45 at Brainerd.

Jim Dotseth, 76, has been retired from high school football coaching since 1997 and was asked if he can imagine still leading a team. “No, I can’t,” said the longtime friend of Stolski who grew up in Minneapolis and attended Patrick Henry High School.

Stolski said he learned long ago coaching is about the players, not him. How much longer does he want to lead the Brainerd Warriors? “I will coach as long as we believe we are doing good things for kids, and as long I can keep doing it,” he told Sports Headliners yesterday. “Frankly, I feel like I am 50.”

Dotseth recalled Stolski’s coaching dates back to high school days while working with youth football. A strong advocate of the many values of football, Stolski is also executive director of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, who brand their organization with the slogan “Keepers of the Game.”

Stolski’s career record is 386-175-1, second all-time in Minnesota to Verndale coach Mike Mahlen, 393-122-3. No. 3 on the list of prep football coaches with the most career wins is Becker’s Dwight Lundeen at 359-159-3, followed by Eden Prairie’s Mike Grant, 344-71, Cambridge’s George Larson, 307-66-6 and Delano’s Merrill Pavlovich, 304-150. All six, except for Larson, are still coaching.

After a summer break, the CORES lunch group resumes Thursday, September 12 with a program featuring speaker Jeff Passolt, the retired Fox 9 news anchor and former KARE 11 sportscaster. CORES luncheons are held at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd. For reservations and other information, contact Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.

Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse, a persistent critic of Golden Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck since 2017, wrote an upbeat column about the program last weekend. For the many skeptics of Fleck among fans, the article will create more credibility for Fleck and authenticate the program.

Max Duggan, the high profile Council Bluffs, Iowa quarterback the Gophers pursued, is at TCU and “positioned to be the first true freshman to start the opener” at QB under long time coach Gary Patterson, per the August 12 Sports Illustrated college football issue.

S.I.’s top 25 ranking of teams includes Minnesota West Division rivals Iowa (18), Wisconsin (19) and Nebraska (24) but not the Gophers or defending division champion Northwestern.

New Jersey assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald is a name to watch as the Minnesota Wild continue the search to replace Paul Fenton as GM.

Minnesota United will play just three games at home over the next 32 days, including this evening at Allianz Field. The Loons, 7-1-4 at Allianz, play Colorado with a 1-6-3 road record.

Midwest All-Star Wrestling and St. Croix Casino, Turtle Lake, are promoting a pro wrestling card at the casino August 23 with nostalgic names like Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Sgt. Slaughter.

 

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