Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2019

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Vikings’ Cook Looks Like ‘Mr. Breakout’

July 14, 2019 - (0) comments


Enjoy a Sunday notes column that leads off with Vikings third-year running back Dalvin Cook.

Do the simplest search of Cook’s name on Google and see the word “breakout” come up on your screen. Anticipation is prevalent that the sometimes injured Cook will be healthy and rank near the top among NFL comeback players in 2019.

The Vikings made it clear during spring practices their new assistant coaches will have the offense prioritizing running the football next season. No one is more important to achieving that goal than Cook who as a rookie in 2017 ran for 354 yards in his first four games before injuring his left knee and missing the rest of the season.

Last season he wasn’t always healthy but managed to play in 11 games, starting 10 and rushing for 615 yards, averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. That is the kind of production the Vikings expected when they selected the former Florida State running back in the early second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Vikings will open training camp later this month with high expectations from the explosive runner if he is healthy. He can be one of the NFL’s better rushers and balance an offense that starts with expensive quarterback Kirk Cousins and two of the league’s best receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. “…We expect Dalvin, the way he’s looked and if he can stay healthy, to have a big breakout season this year,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told Sports Headliners.

The Vikings have even changed their blocking scheme to more effectively blend the pass and run. “There’s no doubt about with what we’re doing offensively (emphasis on running), he’s going to get a lot of opportunity in the games,” Spielman said.

Backing up Cook could be rookie Alexander Mattison, a third round draft selection from Boise State who had consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons for the Broncos. At 5-11, 220-pounds, he is powerfully built, and Spielman is excited about the rookie.

“He’s one of those guys, when you have to run the clock out, he has the ability to get extra yards after contact, keep the chains moving,” Spielman said. “But the thing that I think that surprised me a little bit was how well he caught the ball out of the backfield and how quickly he has picked up pass protection. …”

Tre Jones

Tre Jones, the Duke sophomore point guard who played at Apple Valley, is the No. 8 college basketball player in the country for next season, per Andy Katz. The college basketball authority listed his top 25 players Friday on NCAA.com. Michigan State guard Cassius Winston ranked No. 1, while no Golden Gophers made the top 25 or a list of 15 honorable mention players that included Minnesota native McKinley Wright, who will be a junior guard at Colorado in the fall.

It would be an odd development but not unprecedented if New York Mets starter Zack Wheeler switches uniforms to the Twins this week. The Mets open a two-game Interleague series with the Twins on Tuesday and Minnesota is searching for trades to bolster the pitching staff. Wheeler is 6-6 this season, with 130 strikeouts in 119 innings.

Giants starting ace Madison Bumgarner’s name is linked to the Twins and other clubs regarding a possible July trade. The July 15 issue of Sports Illustrated points out the Giants, who already are out of contention to win the NL West Division, also have trade chips in bullpen pitchers with strong resumes—Sam Dyson, Will Smith and Tony Watson.

Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan, writing in the current issue, refers to the surprising Twins “as real” after a pre-All-Star Game Break performance that had them leading the majors in home runs and taking first place in the AL Central. “They simply have more talent than the second-place Indians and will win their first division title in nine years,” Sheehan said.

Any chance 36-year-old Joe Mauer, in his first season of retirement, will contemplate a comeback next year? “No, I am good,” he told Sports Headliners.

What words would the former Twins great want on his tombstone? “Well, that’s a great question. A good person, and obviously I love to compete, and I love to play baseball. Just a good person, a good teammate and a good family man.”

Wild left wing Jason Zucker talking about next season: “I think a 30 goal season is something that I not only look forward to but something I know I can do. So that’s definitely where I am at.”

Zucker had 33 goals during the 2017-18 season, the only time he has scored 30 or more. The 27-year-old has spent his eight year NHL career with the Wild and his name has been rumored in trade talks. Zucker said the positive about that is other teams apparently want him, but he loves being part of this community.

Vikings single game digital tickets go on sale to the general public starting at 10 a.m. Thursday. Preseason ($20 and up) and regular season ($62 or more) tickets are available online only via Ticketmaster.

University of Iowa football single game tickets also go on sale Thursday, with $80 the cost to see the Gopher game in Iowa City on November 16. Among Iowa’s seven home games, that is the highest single game price except for Penn State at $95. (Youth tickets are $25 for all Hawkeye home games.)


Twins Execs Need Win-Now Mentality

July 11, 2019 - (0) comments


The ninth inning performance of New York Yankees super reliever Aroldis Chapman in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game should have sent a message to Twins fans. Chapman, with his dominating fast ball, struck out the side to preserve the American League’s 4-3 win.

If the Twins are to qualify for the postseason and have a chance against baseball’s “big boys,” they need to make quality additions to the pitching staff. Minnesota leads major league teams in multiple hitting statistics including most home runs, runs batted in and slugging percentage. Minnesota is tied with the Red Sox for the best team batting average at .272. The Twins’ gaudy offensive production is exciting to watch and at times has dominated opponents but adding big contributors to the starting and relief pitching staffs should be a must-do for the front office.

The Twins have a window of opportunity this season they can’t count on in 2020 or beyond. The kind of production the Twins have from their position players (including defense) isn’t something to expect every year. Front office execs Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are reportedly focused on adding pitchers and rightfully so because the franchise needs to maximize this season not only for themselves but for the fans.

The Twins drew less than 2 million fans to Target Field last season, with the lowest total attendance since the outdoor ballpark opened in 2010. Season ticket numbers have declined for awhile now. The Twins went into this season facing an apathetic fan base but the excitement of a power hitting club and first place position in the Central Division has brought both loyalists and the curious to Target Field in large numbers as of late.

The franchise has a longtime reputation of allegedly not being willing to spend money on players the way rivals do. Former GM Terry Ryan was a sharp baseball mind but seemed to be a conservative spender. The club has long maintained ownership is willing to spend additional and sometimes mid-season payroll dollars to attract talent that can put the club in the best position to contend.

Well, now comes an extraordinary opportunity with evidence mounting the Twins will need to upgrade the pitching to stay out front in the division. Minnesota was 15-12 in June and so far in July has lost a series to the Oakland Athletics and won one against the Texas Rangers. The Twins’ only rival for the division title, the Cleveland Indians, have cut Minnesota’s lead from double digits to 5.5 games. While the Indians have won six consecutive games and seven of their last 10, the Twins have been challenged with a run of injuries to key players including staff ace Jake Odorizzi and an overall pitching shortage.

In perhaps the most anticipated match-up of the season so far, the Twins play a three-game series in Cleveland starting tomorrow night. When everyone looks in the “rear view mirror” in September, the results could be seen as one of the key weekends for both teams.

Worth Noting

The Twins’ total of 166 home runs is the most in baseball history before the All-Star Game break. They have a .497 slugging percentage, fourth-best in baseball history prior to the break.

The club’s offensive production has headlined a “fireworks show” in major league baseball that has been attributed to hitters swinging for distance and the manufacture of long ball friendly baseballs. Multiple sluggers are in contention to reach the hallowed ground of 60 home runs or more. That prospect is a jolt to baseball purists who have mourned the rewriting of baseball records during the steroid and alleged juiced ball eras of the past.

Former Twins manager Paul Molitor told Sports Headliners he doesn’t want to “diminish some of the things people (hitters) are doing” but he is certainly aware of baseball’s power surge. “…It sure seems like some pretty funny swings at some pretty tough pitches are going a long way by some guys that don’t look like they would overpower a baseball,” he said.

There is no reason to anticipate a change in hitting headlines after the All-Star break. “It’s flying (the balls),” Molitor said. “Doesn’t matter where, what city, what ball park, we’re seeing record numbers and I don’t think that’s going to change at all during the second half.”

Longtime WCCO TV sports anchor Mark Rosen retired in January but continues to be heard on KFAN Radio. “It’s very liberating to be home at night,” Rosen told Sports Headliners. “I haven’t missed it (TV) for a minute. I really haven’t. It’s been great to be home. I keep more than my toe in the water with KFAN and got some big stuff coming up with the Vikings.”

Being at home more allows Rosen to spend more time with his wife of more than 40 years. Denise is dealing with cancer. “It’s a battle,” Rosen said. “Check ups every six to eight weeks with MRI. That’s the only way we know what’s happening. Other than fatigue, she is doing real well right now. That’s all we can do. We’ve got trips planned and really just doing day-by-day. ”

Goldy’s Locker Room has partnered with Karen Kaler (wife of former University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler) to publish a children’s book featuring Goldy Gopher. The book, including 47 photos, follows the popular mascot on a journey around the University as he explores various fields of study. Goldy discovers that with hard work he can be anything he wants when he grows up. Author proceeds, royalties and licensing fees from book sales support the Goldy Gopher Enhancement Fund benefiting future Goldys.

Karen Kaler dedicated the book to all the Goldys at the U throughout the years. “I was very fortunate to get to work with Goldy Gopher to tell his story,” she said in a news release statement. “Goldy and I both love children, so we want them to understand that studying and learning are important.”

The book is only available at Goldy’s Locker Room stores throughout the Twin Cities and online at goldyslockerroom.com.

Basketball is a lucrative sport at Duke where former Apple Valley star Tre Jones will be a sophomore starter in the fall. A Duke fan emailed that a public season ticket costs $2,660, plus a minimum donation of $8,000.


Humble Baldelli Makes Big Impression

July 09, 2019 - (0) comments


As Major League Baseball pauses this week for its annual All-Star Game break, the Minnesota Twins are the surprise team of the American League with over half of their 162-game schedule completed. At 56-33 the Twins have the third best record in the AL and lead the Central Division by 5.5 games over the Cleveland Indians.

Before the season began no one thought the Twins, who finished with a 78-84 record last season, would have more than 50 wins at the All-Star break. If there was such an honor as Mid-Season American League Manager of the Year, the award would likely go to Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli.

Falvey & Levine

Last fall at age 37 he became the youngest manager in the majors. Twins front office executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine gambled their reputations last year by firing Paul Molitor, a Minnesota sports icon and the 2017 AL Manager of the Year. Baldelli had four previous years as a coach for the Tampa Rays but no managerial experience on any level.

Falvey didn’t hesitate when asked if Baldelli would receive his vote if there were a contest to name a Manager of the Year in July. “In my opinion, of course,” Falvey told Sports Headliners. “He’s been everything we could have asked for and more.

“And I think he’d be the first person to tell you there’s five other guys (managers) he’d vote for…because that’s his humility. That’s what he cares about. …What I get to see inside (of Baldelli) is even more special than what he does on the outside. I am really proud that we have him.”

Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer, was aware of Baldelli’s humility before he hired him and saw that attribute among several that would make the former big league outfielder an outstanding leader. “I (also) saw…a guy who had done a lot of things in baseball. He hadn’t managed yet but he’d been an All-Star player, he’d been a key prospect, he’d had his career cut short by adversity.

“This guy had faced some challenges in his life, but he was also a great coach. He had impacted young players, he had impacted veteran players, and he does it all with an intense humility. So I think that what I saw in him more than anything was just a true leader. Someone who has all the leadership capabilities that in my mind you could see translating into the role of manager, even though he hadn’t done it yet.”

The Twins are a diverse group with players from the United States and other places. They are a mix of young and older players, many of whom are new to the organization. And yet collectively the Twins appear to be an all-for-one bunch that has rapport and celebrates each other’s success. Player leaders like 39–year-old DH Nelson Cruz have played important roles in the culture, but of course Baldelli has as well.

Falvey knows his manager not only relates very well to his players, but to everyone else in the organization including scouts, analysts and front office personnel. “He can interact with anybody but he also has the strength of his convictions,” Falvey said. “I think he believes in certain things around the game, the way it needs to be played. I think it (Baldelli’s convictions) lines up really well with our organization and what our collective views are in terms of our values for our baseball team, and I couldn’t be happier with what he has done.”

Baldelli played seven seasons in the majors, six with the Rays and one with the Boston Red Sox. In 2003 he finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting. The first-year outfielder hit .289, the highest average of any rookie in the league.

Baldelli missed the entire 2005 season due to elbow and knee surgeries. Injuries limited the rest of his career and he retired as a player at age 29 in 2010.

The Twins play with the fight and determination Baldelli demonstrated as a player–persevering through injuries and winning close games. That kind of character prompts Falvey to be optimistic his club can continue its success in the second half of the season.

“We play every game like it’s our last,” Falvey said. “We try and win every night. We’re not going to win them all. We know that, but I truly believe that if we continue to play the way we’ve been playing, we’re going to put ourselves in a great position late in the season.”

Worth Noting

Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco represents the Twins as the starting American League shortstop in tonight’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. Polanco, who turned 26 last week, is having the best start yet to his still brief MLB career, and he ranks fifth in AL batting average at .312.

Former Twins manager Paul Molitor gave Polanco opportunities to establish himself as the club’s starting shortstop in 2017 and 2018. Molitor also worked in the Twins organization prior to managing and he has been familiar with Polanco’s potential for about a decade.

“I knew that there was a chance that he was going to do some special things offensively,” Molitor told Sports Headliners. “You know, when we signed him as a 16-year-old kid, everyone talked about his defense, and his hands, and all those type of things. But as it has turned out, he has been more than adequate defensively…(and) one of the elite players offensively in the American League.”

Tyus Jones

It will be a surprise if Tyus Jones is on the Timberwolves roster by week’s end. Gersson Rosas, the club’s president of basketball operations, must soon match a reported qualifying offer of three years and $28 million from the Memphis Grizzlies for Jones, or lose the restricted free agent. The Wolves, who likely believe $28 million is too pricey for the Minnesota native point guard, seem likely to let Jones leave Minneapolis after four years with the NBA club unless they sign him with intentions of packaging him in a trade.

Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders has known Jones since he was in high school at Apple Valley. Although Jones has been a backup in the NBA with the Wolves, it seemed possible that his role could expand under Saunders, partially because of their solid relationship. But it’s Rosas, not Saunders, who is making the ultimate decisions regarding personnel.

At about 6-feet and under 200 pounds, Jones is undersized as a pro and defense certainly isn’t his strength. But among his attributes is making big plays when games are about to be decided. It’s the same ability he showed in high school and college at Duke. In the right organization, like the San Antonio Spurs who are legendary for their team concept or the Los Angeles Lakers where he could be a complementary piece to superstars, Jones would be valuable.

The University of Minnesota sent emails yesterday introducing the Gopher Pass for home football games. Priced at $28.56 per game, the all-mobile ticket allows “viewpoints” in TCF Bank Stadium for each of Minnesota’s seven home games. If a game is sold out, Gopher Pass purchasers will not have a seat in the stadium but will have access to a standing room only area. Four monthly payments of $49.99 are offered for what is being promoted as the “most flexible ticket ever” for Gophers football fans.


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