A Thursday notes column leading off with—you never expected this—Bud Grant Bobblehead news, plus Gophers basketball, the Twins, and fishing.
Grant sold Bobbleheads at his annual garage sale last month but those who missed out can still obtain the plastic statue through Joe Florenzano and Triple Crown Sports Collectibles. The former Vikings coach is depicted to reflect his football career and passion for the outdoors. The figurine shows him wearing a Vikings cap and jacket, holding a duck, and accompanied by his hunting dog Boom. The Bobblehead is a first for the 90-year-old Minnesota sports legend, and probably the last.
Mail orders are being accepted while limited supplies last, with the cost $55 for an unsigned Bobblehead and $90 for a signed. More information is available at Vikingstwinsman@gmail.com.
Grant will sign autographs at Florenzano’s collectibles show from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 30 at Southtown Shopping Center. Fees are charged for autographs and photos.
Sportingnews.com has the Gophers No. 10 in its top 25 national basketball rankings for 2017-2018. The rankings, posted online yesterday, listed Michigan State No. 2, with the Spartans the only Big Ten team ahead of Minnesota. The Gophers were a surprise last season finishing 11-7 in Big Ten regular season games, and they are losing only one key player. Ryan Fagan wrote the “Gophers will push for the Big Ten championship.”
The other ranked Big Ten teams are No. 23 Purdue and No. 24 Northwestern. Arizona is No. 1.
There is some speculation that when the ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchups are announced the Gophers will host Duke at Williams Arena. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 3 by Sportingsnews.com, and the Gophers have never played them in the Challenge. Minnesota is 1-2 historically (all neutral court games) against the famed program, with the last game coming in a 2013 Duke win in the Bahamas.
The Gophers are “drowning” in Challenge games against Florida State, having played the Seminoles three times in the last five years.
Christine Clifford, a Golden Valley resident, won a tarpon invitational tournament in the Florida Keys last month where 127 tarpon were caught. She hauled in a record 14 tarpon in the 33rd annual tourney, breaking the previous record of 11.
The Twins have lost four straight but with a surprise 26-23 record still have the best winning percentage in the AL Central. Minnesota lost 8-6 to the Rays on Sunday in a 15 inning game that took 6 hours and 26 minutes—longest in club history. The Twins blew a late inning 8-2 lead on Memorial Day, losing 16-8 to the Astros. In losses to the Astros Tuesday and yesterday, the Twins were defeated 7-2 and 17-6. For the three game series the Astros scored 40 runs, the Twins 16.
“Building character right now, along with building a winning attitude,” said Jim Rantz. The now retired Twins front office executive spoke to Sports Headliners yesterday morning before another loss at Target Field.
The Twins can now show the defeats aren’t demoralizing to a team that was 59-103 last season. A strong June led by revived pitching would help. The club hasn’t played better than .500 baseball in June since a 14-13 record in 2012. Last year the Twins were 10-17 during the month, on their way to the worst record in the majors.
The June schedule has the Twins on the road for two-thirds of the month but Minnesota is 14-5 in away games so far, 12-18 in Minneapolis. The Twins play the Angels in Anaheim tonight and won’t have to face Angels superstar outfielder Mike Trout who was in the early running to win the AL Triple Crown before tearing a ligament in his left thumb.
The Twins had the opportunity to select Trout in the 2009 first-year player draft but took Kyle Gibson with the No. 22 choice. The Angels found Trout still available drafting at No. 25. Gibson has been inconsistent with the Twins during his career, and this season has been disappointing so far. His record is 1-4 with a 7.75 ERA.
In the Astros series the Twins faced star shortstop Carlos Correa who Houston chose with the No. 1 selection in the 2012 draft. The Twins, picking next at No. 2, drafted center fielder Byron Buxton. “I think we were leaning toward Buxton all along,” said Rantz who was involved with that draft.
Buxton has been sensational in the field and a major contributor to the improved Twins defense that has played a key role in the club’s early contention for a division title. After a miserable start at the plate, Buxton is contacting the ball with some consistency and he hit .254 in May. His average now is .201.
Rantz thinks Buxton might be the fastest player in baseball and refers to him as a hitter who eventually may average .250 to .280 each season, with double digit totals in home runs. “He’s going to get his hits and some of them won’t be pretty, but that’s what speed does,” said Rantz.
Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners he hasn’t been surprised how consistent the Twins outfield and infield defense has been. Minnesota has the second fewest errors among MLB teams, according to Espn.com. “Our outfield defense has been as good as any outfield defense in Major League Baseball,” St. Peter said. “All of the modern metrics demonstrate that.”
St. Peter said minor league performances by Buxton and fellow outfielders Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario indicated they would perform well in the majors. Early signs were also present with shortstop Jorge Polanco and third baseman Miguel Sano. “I think the other person that probably doesn’t get enough credit is Joe Mauer at first base,” St. Peter said. “Joe is having an incredible year defensively over there and certainly should be somebody who gets Gold Glove consideration.”
St. Peter talking about the club’s personnel: “We’re always open to discussions about how we make our team better. I don’t think there is a single player on our roster that is immune from those types of discussions. …”
ByungHo Park is playing again for Triple A Rochester. He had a hamstring injury earlier in the year and is hitting .228 in 92 at bats after an impressive spring with the Twins and almost making the big league roster. “But I certainly expect to see Byung in Minnesota at some point in 2017,” St. Peter said about the DH and first baseman.
The Twins sold about 1,500 of the new Spring Ballpark Pass, St. Peter said. The pass provided access inside Target Field but not a seat and cost $99 to watch Twins games in April and May. That type of product is something the Twins will consider in the future.
St. Peter said the club has sold more than 13,500 season tickets and could exceed 14,000 for 2017. The team’s season ticket total last year was about 14,000.
It’s only spring and the Vikings are going through early practices, but expectations have already arrived for rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Anticipation among fans and media has been present since the Vikings moved up in April’s NFL Draft to select the former Florida State All-American in the second round, but a couple things said recently are newsworthy.
Vikings college scout and veteran front office authority Scott Studwell made a prediction last week about the 21-year-old who will compete to replace Adrian Peterson as the team’s starting running back. “He’s going to play early and he’s going to play a lot,” Studwell told Sports Headliners. “We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
If there is a guru among pro football writers, it’s Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. He had his own projection about Cook last week. He wrote online that by Halloween the 5-10, 210-pound Cook will be one of the NFL’s five best running backs. King also said the Vikings need a renewed running game and Cook—along with veteran Latavius Murray—can provide the answer.
The Vikings ranked last in NFL rushing last season at 75.3 yards per game. Studwell said the Vikings must commit to running the ball and Cook can be a major contributor. “Hopefully he’ll loosen up the box a little bit. He’ll put pressure on defenses. He’s got big play potential and that’s what we were missing.”
Studwell studied Cook on tape before the Vikings made him their highest drafted running back since they took Stanford’s Toby Gerhart in the second round in 2010.
“He is an exceptional athlete,” Studwell said about Cook. “He can do everything. He catches it extremely well. He’s got great feet, he’s got really good eyes. He plays probably faster than he times. He’s got game speed. He’s got exceptional inside run ability. He’s pretty much the entire package.”
A history of off-field problems and injuries gave teams pause in drafting Cook who could have been a first round choice but instead was the ninth player chosen in the second round. Now he has a new start in the pros. “(For) anybody’s general impression, he’s just a good guy,” said fellow rookie Eric Wilson.
Wilson is a linebacker, and playing on the other side of the ball has given him an opportunity to watch Cook. “His quickness is hard to come by,” Wilson said. (With) his vision, he’s able to make cuts that a lot of people just can’t make. That’s going to take him a long way as long as he stays in the playbook.”
Maybe Cook’s rookie season will draw comparisons to Peterson’s 2007 debut when he rushed for an NFC best 1,341 yards. That effort, combined with Chester Taylor’s running, allowed the Vikings to set a team rushing record of 2,634 yards as Minnesota ranked No. 1 in NFL rushing offense. Cook, Murray and the Vikings have no where to go but up.
Tre Jones, the elite prep point guard from Apple Valley High School, suffered a top ankle sprain last week and is on crutches. “He needs time to heal but nothing is broken,” said his cousin Al Nuness.
Jones was playing in California for his Minnesota team that competes in the Nike EYBL when injured. The culmination of the EYBL schedule comes at the Peach Jam July 12-16 in South Carolina and Nuness said that figures to be a target date for Jones’ return, if not sooner.
The Twins have the first pick in the June 12 first-year player draft but don’t expect that player to be on the big league roster this year. The only first round pick ever to play for the Twins in his first season as a pro was pitcher Eddie Bane who made his big league debut July 4, 1973 at Met Stadium with no time spent in the minors.
The Twins probably could draw a near capacity crowd at Target field if they showcased their No. 1 this year. The club is hoping to draw 2 million fans and top last season’s attendance of 1,963,912 million, the lowest ever in seven years at Target Field.
If Mike Zimmer’s eye struggles were to sideline him for an indefinite period it’s a decent guess general manager Rick Spielman will designate offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as interim head coach. Shurmur has NFL head coaching experience—2011 and 2012 with the Browns, and 2015 as interim boss with the Eagles. He was promoted by Zimmer last fall from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator when Norv Turner left the team.
Schurmur and wife Jennifer entered their bulldog Penny in Canterbury Park’s fourth annual Running of the Bulldogs yesterday at Canterbury Park. Penny didn’t emerge as a winning dog in one of the racetrack’s more popular just for fun promotions that also include annual Corgi and Weiner dog races.
Ex-Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi will have the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion named for him at a yet to be determined event this fall. Maturi retired in 2012. His career highlights included the building of TCF Bank Stadium and a deep commitment to gender equity.
It was 15 years ago last week that legendary Gophers athlete and athletic director Paul Giel died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Giel, an All-American at Minnesota in baseball and football, had a varied career that also included being sports director at WCCO Radio.
Dick Mattson lived for Gophers football. The Gophers were the only football team in town to “Matts.” Mention the Vikings and he might snort, or cuss. Bring up the Gophers and passion stirred in his mind, body, and soul.
Lou Holtz was reviving Gophers football to a place of greatness in the mid-1980s. The Metrodome was rocking when Holtz’s team took the field on Saturdays. Mattson contributed to the crowd’s frenzy by running onto the field waving a hockey stick over his head, encouraging the craziness in the stands.
Mattson spent 48 years with the Gophers equipment staff, including 32 seasons heading operations for the football program. Family and friends said goodbye to him yesterday at his funeral. He died last week at age 73, his body giving in to liver and kidney failure.
Mattson was a high school senior in Benson, Minnesota in 1961 when Gophers coach Murray Warmath came to the western part of the state. Mattson, who was an athletics student manager in high school, told the coach he wanted to perform those duties when he came to the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1961.
That’s how Mattson started his long tenure at the U. He arrived in the glory years of Gophers football. The 1960 team had won the national championship and the 1961 team would be headed to a 1962 Rose Bowl win over UCLA. Mattson, though, didn’t make the trip to Pasadena because freshmen managers weren’t allowed to travel. That turned out to be a lifelong regret for him.
He revered Warmath who coached the Gophers from 1954-1971. Mattson would refer to him as the “old man” but it was always respectfully. Warmath was a hard-nosed coach who preached discipline and Mattson was a disciple.
Former Gopher Jim Brunzell remembered the coach and Mattson in an email: “Matts was a real character. He was straight-up, no mincing words with him. He…took on Murray’s traits and attitudes. Be tough—don’t bitch—don’t give up—and respect one another.”
When Mattson encountered a reporter, he set that strong jaw of his and told you exactly what he thought. He probably was chomping on his trademark pipe while looking through his oversized glasses. He let you know where things stood in the Gophers football world.
Mattson made the right impression early on in the football program. Two years after arriving at the U as a freshman he became assistant equipment manager to the legendary Milt Holmgren. Mattson didn’t have his degree in 1963 and never did graduate from college, but he now had a career path. “School was not his thing,” his son Keith Mattson told Sports Headliners.
The Gophers and managing equipment needs was his thing. So, too, was relating with and sometimes mentoring the people around him in an environment of long hours, physical work and intense emotions.
“U of M Athletics was a calling to him, and dedicating his time for 48 years being there for the athletes made him happy,” Keith wrote on Facebook. “I don’t think there is a profession out there where you can be a part of so many young people’s lives as they grow to be adults.”
George Adzick, another former Gopher football player, recalled the impact Mattson had on him, including doing things the right way. “Nobody wanted to disappoint Dick Mattson. You came in as a freshman and he kept a close eye on you to make sure you didn’t go wayward. He had a classic football orientation to do things the right way. He was somewhere in between an assistant coach and the equipment manager.
“That’s how much respect you had for him. Once you came to terms with him, and he believed in you, he was loyal for life.”
Last year Mattson was battling cancer when word came the University wanted to honor him at the “M” Club’s Hall of Fame ceremony. He told Keith he wasn’t sure if he would die before the big day last fall when he was to receive the “M” Club’s Distinguished Service Award in honor of his contributions to Gopher athletics.
Mattson suggested his son might need to represent him. “You’re going to be there,” Keith told him.
Mattson listened and Keith thinks the motivation of receiving the honor kept his father alive longer than he otherwise would have. At the Hall of Fame gathering Mattson told the audience they didn’t know “how much it means” to be recognized.
“It meant the world to him,” Keith said. “It kind of solidified his place in Gophers history, although he would never ask for it (the award).”
Keith travelled with his dad when he met collegiate equipment managers from various parts of the country. People would ask Mattson for advice. “They called him the mentor,” Keith remembered.
Mattson, though, would caution his colleagues to not tell Keith about his episodes as a party man. Mattson liked to drink and eventually became a recovering alcoholic. He didn’t want anyone telling his son about the partying.
“He paid for his sins, as he would tell you,” Keith said.
No doubt Matts is in heaven this week toasting the Golden Gophers with a non-alcoholic beverage of his choice.